dad talking to son

Being the cool parent is not cool at all.

Parents who allow their teenage children to drink in their own home, blow my mind. I’ve heard all of the reasons, and the most common one is that “they are going to do it anyway. While I understand where they are coming from, it is never a good idea to provide a place for underage drinking, or the means to use drugs and alcohol.

And yes, it might be true that your child will do it anyway, but adolescent experimentation with drugs and alcohol should not be condoned by parents. Allowing it under your roof sends the message that it is not risky or damaging and that breaking the law is acceptable behavior.

The University of Michigan’s Children’s Hospital conducted a national poll and found that parents have a good handle of how many teenagers use drugs and alcohol in general, but they consistently underestimated and denied their own child’s substance abuse issues.

Responsible parenting requires you to keep your eyes open, to set appropriate boundaries and limits, and to model a healthy lifestyle.

If you engage in any of the following behaviors, chances are good that you could be enabling your child’s potential addiction problems;

  • Buying your child drugs and alcohol because you believe they are going to get it anyway
  • Giving them money when you know it will be used for drugs or alcohol
  • Allowing your kids to drink or use drugs conditionally, only at home, only when you have their car keys
  • Drinking or using drugs with your child because you believe that is a safer option
  • Hosting underage parties, believing that gives you more control over their safety
  • Ignoring obvious signs of drug or alcohol use because you don’t want to seem ‘uncool’

Most parents I meet with who make these kinds of decisions have the best of intentions and yes, the need to keep your child safe from drinking and driving, for example, is important. But parents often forget or don’t realize the other dangers in teen substance use, supervised or unsupervised.

The adolescent brain is still growing.

The prefrontal cortex, responsible for impulse control and reasoning doesn’t fully mature until age 25 and the reward center of the teen brain is on fire, causing them to engage in risky, thrill-seeking behaviors. Your child is also a hormonal basket case and is more likely to make decisions based on emotion, rather than logic. Throw in drugs and alcohol and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Most of us understand that teens who use drugs and alcohol have an increased risk in developing an addiction, that early drug and alcohol use has a negative effect on their developing brain, and that drug and alcohol use negatively affects the memory center of the brain, often creating issues academically.

Being a cool parent also puts you at risk legally and financially. Just last week a Utah couple found themselves getting booked into a Utah County Jail after telling the police that they allowed their 14-year-old son to smoke pot as long as he goes to school and gets good grades. The possible charges? Felony child endangerment and misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia possession.

What Should Parents Be Doing Instead?

  • Know what your child is doing in every space they occupy, school, social and cyberspace
  • Set clear boundaries, limits, expectations, and consequences well before you start having issues
  • Pay attention to warning signs that your child may be experimenting, watch what they post, get to know their #lingo, and their cultural language around drugs and alcohol use
  • Know your child’s friends, both live and online, kids who hang out with substance users are more likely to use themselves

Your primary job as a parent is not to be your child’s friend, it is to keep them safe. Be smarter, pay attention to the signs, monitor them in every space they occupy, and drop the cool parent role. It’s not worth the risks.


Andrea Difilippo is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, nationally recognized parenting expert and Chief Parenting Officer with Social Judo.