Worrying About Underage Drinking

Brad, the “dad”

The Valkyrie, at 17.6 years of age, will be going off to college in just a few months. She’ll be joining a friend we’ve known for years who’s two years older than she is. I like her friend a lot – smart, enthusiastic, talented, hard-working…


I happened to walk in on a conversation between them just yesterday, where Friend was telling a story about a silly thing she did when she was just a little bit drunk last weekend. (Friend isn’t quite 21 yet, which means she’s too young to buy alcohol.) It wasn’t anything horrible – she didn’t drive her car into a wall or have sex (or even make out) with some stranger; it was just silly. And they both treated it as oh-so-harmless and funny and inconsequential.

I’m pretty sure the Valk hasn’t done any drinking yet; Lord knows here in California the institutional “don’t drink/do drugs/ have sex” messages start in preschool, and maybe even prenatally. And I’ve seen her calmly, firmly keep away from that stuff in a high school where alcohol and drugs are available, though not epidemic. Besides, I did a fair amount of recreational imbibing myself in college, and I’m not naïve. It’s going to happen.


It’s yet another instance where we have to trust that the messages we’ve given her and the behavior we’ve tried to model will be enough to give her guidance. After all, that’s the central question for parents of ‘departing’ teens, isn’t it? Not What can I do? (since the answer almost always seems to be “Nothing now,”) but How much should I worry?

So: How much should I worry?

Mary, the “mom”

Well Dad, no matter what anyone says, you’re going to worry when the Valk departs. I’m not there yet, but my sense from what I’ve seen is that it just goes with the territory. But, on this particular issue, I’m thinking that if the Valk’s come this far – end of senior year of high school – without drinking, then you’re doing something right! And, to give credit where credit’s due, she has her act together!

Lots of kids are exposed to those “don’t drink/do drugs/have sex” messages, but many don’t listen. Since the Valk has apparently listened, at least you know that she “gets it” about drinking and how it impacts teen brains. And, you know that she’s observed the good model you’ve provided. I know that no underage drinking is acceptable, but if she chooses to experiment, I think you can feel somewhat comforted believing that she’ll proceed with caution.

The Valk has made good decisions so far. So, Dad, focus on that and try not to worry so much!

Rach, the “teen”

I think the amount of worrying you do should relate directly to how you’ve taught your daughter about making safe decisions. You taught the Valk not to drink, do drugs, or have unsafe sex. You enforced those rules, you were an example, and you let her know what was acceptable (and what was not) in your household, right?

I bet you did all of that. But, no matter how much you trust that your daughter will make safe decisions about alcohol, you will still worry. A lot.

Now you have to trust that you taught your daughter the right lessons. That you were an example, and that that will be enough to help her through all the decisions she will have to make without you.

Mom is right, focusing on the positives up to this point is important. And continuing the messages of “no drugs, no sex, no alcohol” in college will help her (and you) feel better about the Valk making her own informed responsible choices.