Drunk Teenager

September 06 2020 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: My 14-year-old son went to a friend’s birthday party in his home one afternoon. When he came back home late at night he was dead drunk. This was, both for him and for us, a rather traumatic experience. We had trusted his friend’s parents. We later discovered that they had left the house so as not to disturb the party, which had also been attended by a number of girls. We are worried by all the alcohol out there in society.


Situations like this can feel very shocking and often overwhelming, particularly when we feel our trust has been betrayed. However, viewing this situation as a learning experience – for both of you – will help you handle this event more effectively. As Romans 8:28 tells us, “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Take this to heart and ask yourselves, “What can we make of this? How can we learn and grow from this experience?”

First, take a supportive approach. Ask your son to identify the point he chose to begin drinking. Explore what preceded this event with the intention of helping your son handle it in a way that he (and you) can be proud of. There may be a variety of contributing factors. Being willing to listen to his story is the first step to identifying the help he needs to do better.

Next, work with your son to identify the virtues or strengths that would have helped him handle himself more effectively. Examples may be confidence, understanding of self-worth, prudence, strong sense of his personal beliefs, determination, or anything you both decide would be applicable. Identify the top two or three qualities that would have been important or necessary in the situation.

Having identified the qualities that were missing, explore how he would have behaved if he had access to these qualities at the time. Don’t lecture. Ask leading questions to help him think through the answers. Once he has identified better ways of behaving, role-play the event with him, but this time implementing the necessary strengths and qualities to help him practice handling the situation more effectively. You play the role of the friends (ask him to guide you in saying the words that they said to him) and support him as he practices responding in this better way. Work together to find the best wording and responses. Once this is completed, tell your son that you are proud of him for working through this situation with you. Be sure to practice this again before he leaves the next time to hang out with friends as a form of follow-up, accountability, and continued skill building.

Many parents wonder how they can trust their children to behave well when they are out from under their supervision.  Ask yourself how your son is prone to behave at home when you are not staying on top of him. Is he responsible, respectful, and faithful on his own? Or do you have to remind him to be these things? However your son behaves when you aren’t supervising him at home is a good predictor of how he will behave when you can’t supervise him away from home.  Assuming his behavior is lacking in this area, make a list of three to five things that you need to see consistently from your son in order to trust that he can be responsible and handle himself appropriately on a daily basis. Examples of this list might look like: making his bed every morning, fulfilling his responsibilities in a timely manner, confirming with you before he is to go to the store or meet up with a friend, being on time to family dinners, etc.  Make sure that you and your son have daily check-ins with each other. Each of you should discuss how you are feeling about your relationship, if you both feel that progress is being made in building trust or not, and identify what needs to be done to continue to build trust and better your relationship.

All this said, moving forward, it is your responsibility to make sure that a parent will be present whenever your son is visiting a friend. Don’t worry about embarrassing him. Call ahead and confirm that appropriate supervision will be provided. Never assume. Also, let your son know that you expect him to call you if something changes and a parent is not present. He should not be in the position of having to handle these situations on his own.

In short, treat this unfortunate event as a learning experience to help your son see that he has the strength and support to avoid future problems like this.

Updated on September 06 2020