What To Do If You Find Out An Adult Is Providing Alcohol

Mother comforting her son

This month, Laura Bruce, describes a dilemma parents commonly discuss with her in her role as a prevention specialist.

“There were two kids passed out on the couch.”

This is what my son just told me. It was one of those special moments when my teenager actually opened up to me about his weekend and his friends. He was vulnerable, and I could tell that he was scared I was going to get really mad. I tried really hard to maintain composure, just listening, waiting for him to tell me more. He explained that he didn’t drink but all his friends did, some of them drinking so much they passed out. I ask about the parents, and he shared that they were upstairs and they knew that everyone was drinking— it was the parents who bought the alcohol. Then he went quiet–he really didn’t want me to dislike those parents or his friends. I consoled my son, thanking him for confiding in me and telling him I was so proud for not drinking. I told him that he can always call me if kids start drinking and I’d come get him ASAP. I gave him a hug.

Phew. My heart pounded as I left the conversation. On one hand, my kid was fine. He did the right thing and I’m so glad he was honest with me. On the other hand, I was furious that this parent provided alcohol to MY kid and his friends. Didn’t they know they were setting up kids for a host of immediate and long-term problems?  

Nancy B. Kansas City, Missouri

Alarming Stats

In my job as a prevention specialist, I hear stories like this from parents all the time. They’re angry that the providers of alcohol are other adults or parents who should know better.

The alarming truth is that kids in the Kansas City Northland rarely get alcohol from retailers; their source is usually older friends or family members. In the Missouri Student Survey conducted in 2018, 62.2% of adolescents claimed to have acquired alcohol through a friend, while 41.6% stated that they got alcohol through family members. And while parents may think they’re doing the right thing because they’re “supervising” the situation, the reality is that they’re contributing to the problem.

Now What?

As a parent, the steps you take today will have a profound impact on the health and future well-being of your children. That’s why it’s crucial to speak up and play a proactive role in preventing underage drinking. Parent Up provides a ton of resources for having conversations with your child about underage drinking so they’re more likely to make the right decision in the moment.   

If you find yourself in a sticky situation similar to Nancy’s in the story above, you may feel conflicted on what to do. Here are a few approaches you can take if you discover that other adults or parents are providing alcohol or allowing underage drinking:

  • Call law enforcement
  • Contact the adult directly
  • Notify your school or other parents

If you don’t feel comfortable taking these steps or they’re not the best options for your situation, we’ve created a warning letter you can send. It’s a sensitively written letter that informs the adult that it is known they provided alcohol to minors and outlines the dangers associated with underage drinking. Visit our Parent Warning Letter webpage for more information on how to use this resource.

We’re Here To Help

At Parent Up, our mission is to equip parents with facts, resources and tools to prevent underage drinking in the Northland. To learn more about what you can do to prevent underage drinking, check out our collection of online tools and resources!

Laura Bruce
Laura Bruce
Program Director Specialist

Laura Bruce is the Program Development Specialist at Tri-County Mental Health Services, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri.  She is a certified prevention specialist and enjoys the challenge of proactively working to reduce and prevent problems that affect everyone in our community.  In her current role, she works with multiple coalitions throughout the Kansas City Northland with the aim of reducing drug and alcohol use among youth. Using programs like Parent Up, we work to mobilize our community and parents to protect area youth from the harmful effects of underage drinking.

Alcohol and the Teen Brain

Sad Drunk Woman on Armchair with Empty Bottles

This month Elise Bennett, a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist in Kansas City, Missouri, writes about why teenagers are more vulnerable to alcohol, the impact alcohol has on the teen brain, and what you can do as a parent to prevent underage drinking.

Alcohol and the Teen Brain

The brain is not fully developed until at least the mid-twenties with the adolescent years being a crucial period in brain development. Because of this, teens are much more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol than adults.

Many of the teens that I work with in my practice are transparent about using alcohol as a coping strategy to manage their stress, depression, or anxiety. Since the alcohol often perpetuates the problem, a teen drinks more and more in a setting looking for the “benefits” they see marketed for alcohol in movies and the media.

Why Teens are More Vulnerable to Harmful Effects of Alcohol

The part of the brain undergoing the most growth during the adolescent years is the portion involved in impulse control, rule learning, and decision making. Developmentally, teens are in a stage where they don’t believe bad things will actually happen to them. Their ability to weigh risk versus reward is underdeveloped. This means decision making is often weighted more heavily toward the option that feels most fun in the moment without much consideration for the long-term impact.

Making healthy choices can even be seen in more benign examples of how teens weigh the importance of their schoolwork. When given the option of receiving five dollars for each day in a week they completed their homework or $50 on Friday if they complete their homework every day, an overwhelming number of teens chose to receive the instant gratification of having five dollars in their pocket. Similarly, teens that I work with describe the difficulty of choosing between the hope that consuming alcohol will be fun in the moment or delaying the instant gratification to maintain trust and respect from their parents.

Adolescent drinking beer - alcoholism among young adults
 Teens are in a stage of development where they don’t believe bad things will actually happen to them.

The Short and Long-term Consequences of Underage Drinking

A central nervous system depressant, alcohol slows down the brain and breathing, and heart rate and consciousness follow. In the short term, alcohol creates noticeable deficits in memory, impaired speech, impaired decision making, loss of muscle growth, deregulated sleep, and decreased ability to manage stress.

Because the teen brain is still building its architecture, alcohol and other drugs have the possibility of changing the trajectory of brain development. In the longer term, alcohol creates diminished gray matter in the brain, inability to think abstractly, memory loss, and loss of attention span.

While most cells in the body regenerate, cells damaged in the brain by alcohol are not replaced.

What Parents Can Do To Prevent Underage Drinking

Teens crave connection with their parents. I hear from parents regularly that they believe they are no longer relevant to their children once they hit adolescence. The reality, however, is that parents have the most influence over whether or not a teen chooses to drink underage. Over and over again, teen clients of mine verbalize the desire for their parents to ask them questions about their friends, their hobbies, and their identity.

Talking to your children, limiting access and refusing to give alcohol to your children are the most effective ways to impact an adolescent’s alcohol consumption.

Here are more ways you can minimize your teen’s risk of underage drinking:

  • Talk to other parents about not having alcohol at parties with your child.
  • Check in with your teenager before and after they go out.
  • Set clear expectations for behavior.
  • Practice good supervision and consistent discipline.
  • Minimize conflict in the family.
  • Eat dinner as a family as often as possible—this is a good time to talk about the issues your children face in a non-threatening way.

As a parent, you have the power to affect positive change in your children’s lives. Learn more about what you can do to prevent underage drinking!


Elise Bennett

Elise Bennett is a Clinically Licensed Therapist who works with adolescents, adults, and families. Elise works very closely with area school districts to collaborate treatment plans and mental health outcomes to benefit both her clients and the Northland adolescent community. Elise sits on the Executive Board for the Missouri Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Greater Kansas City Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and the Liberty Alliance for Youth. She has extensive lobbying, workshop and conference presentation experience including guest lecturing at area Universities and social service organizations.

Welcome to the Parent Up Blog

As parents, we understand how difficult it can be to navigate tough topics with our children. We also understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by advice and opinions from the internet, television, books, talk shows, other parents, social media and more!

At Parent Up, our mission is to prevent underage drinking in the Northland through equipping parents with facts, resources and tools. The aim of our new blog is to provide practical, up-to-date information about parenting from local experts and parents like you.

Together, we can prevent underage drinking and drug use to keep our children safe!

What to Expect from the Parent Up Blog:

  • Expertise from local health care professionals, educators and law enforcement
  • Information on the root causes of underage drinking and how to address them
  • The latest research and trends relating to underage drinking, drug use and mental health
  • Stories from local parents about how they have addressed difficult issues with their children

Where to start?

Alcohol kills more teens than all other illegal drugs combined, which is why our mission is so important! The first thing you can do to prevent underage drinking or any other drug use is to start a conversation with your children. Research shows that parents have the most influence on whether or not their child drinks. What you say really does matter.

Here are some questions you can ask to open up the communication:

  • What are other kids at school saying about alcohol and drugs?
  • What do you think about drinking and drugs?
  • What worries or questions do you have about drinking?
  • [When watching TV or movies together that portray underage drinking] What do you think would happen if teens drank like this in real life?

Remember to ask open ended questions and to listen without judgement. Check out more of ourtips for starting the conversation on underage drinking with your children and teens.

We’d Love to Hear from YOU

Do you have ideas on what content you’d like to see on the blog? Leave them in the comments below! Would you like to contribute to the blog and guest post? Email us at info@parentupkc.com!

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