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Teens and alcohol

Original post made by Paly Parent, Palo Alto High School, on Apr 15, 2013

In light of recent events in Palo Alto HS magazine and also in Saratoga HS, I would like to ask fellow parents about what is happening with our teens and drinking.

Without going into anything other than the drinking aspect, do we have a problem with our teens drinking to the extent that they get drunk and pass out?

I was under the impression that we had a law that meant that if teens were drinking in the home and the parents had no idea it was happening, being out of town for example, that they could still be charged with allowing minors to drink and any other illegal activity that happened as a result.

Several years ago there was a case of the parents being in a home where some of the kids were drinking and the parents were charged and there was another case in Menlo Park where it was a football after party.

We have spoken with our kids about the issue and they know that they must not go to parties where there are no adults present or where there is alcohol being consumed regardless of whether adults are present or not. We trust our kids to be responsible but it is hard when we hear rumours of what is going on.

Is this a big problem in Palo Alto or just the occasional isolated incident? How can we prevent our almost 18 year olds from getting into a culture where underage drinking at parties is seemed acceptable? It is going to be hard enough for them when they leave home and go to college, but if it is happening in the homes of the friends they have had for many years with parents we have thought of as peers, then it is much harder for us to know how to do the right thing.

As a disclaimer, we have given our own teens alcohol at home in sensible quantities in the right conditiions because we do not want their first experience while at some college party where drinking in excess is the norm. We want our kids to have the first experience of what alcohol does to their bodies and their state of mind where we can help them. We do not give them large amounts to make them feel drunk. We do let them have some so that they can see what a difference it makes to their sense of sobriety.

Comments (10)

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 15, 2013 at 9:29 am

As an addendum to the above disclaimer. We have given our own teens a little alcohol, but we have never given alcohol to their friends, or given to our teens before they are about to go out, or when their friends were present. Only our teens, at home, when they are with us and will be here with us before going to bed for the night.

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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 15, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Not all teens drink. Not all college students drink.
Most certainly don't drink to the point of passing out - that must mean a crazy super high blood alcohol level! Then I think one is more vulnerable to future drinking problems.
Please help our youth and young adults to learn to have fun responsibly.
With regards to the Saratoga High incident, what a tragedy but after the tragedy of the vulnerable 15YO girl being taken advantage of after getting so drunk she passed out (or was she given a date rape drug?!), the next thought that occurs to me is how sad that a certain number of 15YO girls AND boys think that in order to be cool they "must" go to parties and drink underage in such a dangerous way. You have many years to attend cool parties and learn to show better judgement. I assume 15YO boys who are massively drunk have terrible judgement, too...
And - social media is POISONOUS.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 16, 2013 at 8:04 am

Thank you former Paly parent. It is good to know that not all our students drink.

It does worry me that there seems to be a culture which accepts teen drinking in large quantities as normal teen behavior.

With prom and graduation season upon us, I urge all other parents to talk with your kids about the dangers of drinking in excess and remind them that one of the effects of alcohol is that it impairs judgment as well as the other effects.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 16, 2013 at 10:46 am

We have been talking about this issue with our kids for years. They see us practice moderation even when we have company for dinner and we decide not to have that extra glass of wine. I think they are most worried and frightened when they see grown adults acting like sloppy idiots because they have had too much to drink.

More importantly, we talk about what they might see when they are out at parties with friends or off to college... and what they should do or not do to stay safe and keep their friends safe. I certainly witnessed too many top students my freshman year of college who completely pickled their brains by the end of their senior year. They were shells of their former selves and one of them became a quadriplegic as a result of a dumb frat stunt.

Finally, we tell them to never let someone else prepare a drink for them. You never know what is put in it!

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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm

@Paly Parent,
Sure, some kids and parents are desperate to keep up a "cool image" -brag about partying (and implying popularity, too) but surveys as well as actual witnessing of college and other students demonstrates that not all students are partying hard with liquor.
I am totally interested that parties are held at homes - there have been notable episodes in the recent past with an elementary school parent arrested by police after a huge drunken high school party (Palo Verde teacher, I believe), and a Stanford professor was arrested and handcuffed (home located in Menlo Park, I think) a few years back owing to teen drinking which he claimed he was unaware was occurring in his home. A big to-do was in the press with the prof claiming he had been pushed around when he was arrested as if he were a bad guy, hhe was handcuffed, etc. Not surprisingly, such media stories are buried and forgotten as quickly as possible by the powerful.
Significantly, the parents of Audrie Pott (Saratoga HS teen who sadly committed suicide after passing out from drunkenness at a party at a fellow HS student's home) ARE suing the parents of the kid who apparently hosted the drunken bash. I am not a lawyer, but I believe if you are an adult and permit (implicitly or explicitly or even if you were conveniently out of town)a teen party with underage drinking (and God Forbid, irresponsible drinking, underage sex/statutory rape and so on), you CAN be arrested and charged.
In the Palo Alto case above, influence apparently assisted powerful parents from being prosecuted. One of my ongoing concerns is that the law MUST be applied equally - if ONE parent (not powerful) is charged with hosting an underage teen drinking party, then the powerful one should be held responsible in a consistent manner.

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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:59 pm

sorry, meant to write elementary school TEACHER (!) permitted a drunken teen party at her home -- yes, look it up, it happened. There was police involvement that ery night, the rowdy drunken teens either ran off or were held at the home until their parents came to pick them up and there was a major question as to how to hold the TEACHER (also a parent, naturally) responsible. It was hushed up. Lots of lawyers in this city.
The problem is, underage drinking is ILLEGAL. It is also unsafe and may lead to bad things happening - whether illness, death, rape, fights.
The problem is, adults are supposed to be arrested and charged and convicted if they serve juveniles liquor OR if a party is hosted in their home (to their knowledge or whether they carefully look away or go out of town to increase their teen kids' social standing by being able to host a "cool" party) - but SOME adults HAVE been held responsible, while some connected and/or lawyered up types have gotten away with it. Outrageous. I think the female elementary teacher should have been FIRED, but I believe I recall the district protected her.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm


I really didn't want to rehash an old story which was reported without the facts accurately described. If you look up the story the initial reports were later insubstantiated in court.

The Paly kids arrived at the party with alcohol and some were already drunk, the parents own alcohol was locked in their cars, they had taken away all the carkeys from the students when they saw what was happening. Gunn students had heard about the party and attempted to gatecrash and when they were not allowed in, they called the police about the "drunken party". The parents were helping kids who were so drunk they were vomiting in the bathroom when the police arrived and they were so pleased to see the police who they thought were there to help them rather than charge them. Sure, they made some mistakes, but they didn't serve alcohol and they paid the fines and did the community service.

This should be a lesson to us all about hosting parties. That is why the details are important. We must be around when our kids invite friends over and we must make sure that they don't get our alcohol. If we suspect that the arriving friends have been drinking then we should take away their car keys. We should then call the parents to come and get them.

We should also realise that there is a danger of gatecrashers. We should also realise that there is a rivaly between the two schools and if one group can do it, they will find a way to make the other school look bad. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 16, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Of course a good number of the kids drink - & they have parties when their parents aren't around. Kids lie about where they go & what's going on. A good number of those kids get drunk & many of them pass out at some time or another. Some of the kids drive drunk, some have designated drivers. Some kids have just a beer. But overall, yeah, the drinking is still out of control, according to the Paly kids I know. It's still cliquish & the jocks still lead the charge on drinking.

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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

@hmmm, I am surprised since I often agree with your posts I read on these forums. While I am not in the medical profession, I thought that if one passes out owing to alcohol consumption, that is super serious and perhaps life-threatening. I know a lot of college students (although we are past the high school age group, so I don't know their current norms as well), and I know a girl who was raced to a hospital after vomiting/passing out owing to massive alcohol consumption and this WAS a big deal and it was taken very seriously, not a run of the mill experience. Thinking back to my own drinking in college years, I drank a fair amount at times, but I NEVER passed out - wow! Perhaps someone with medical training can comment on all this, but if the blood alcohol level is too high, we all know the situation is life-threatening and I personally don't think this kind of situaton should be encouraged or taken lightly. Have a good time, I am fine with parties, but young people are sometimes irresponsible abd we don't want tragedies of whatever extent, whether Audie Pott's suicide or "just" being rushed to the hospital for having passed out while drinking. There news stories periodically (for some reason, I am thinking of Berkeley) where college students pass out and are left there by their peers and then they are DEAD.

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Posted by is it true?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2013 at 7:57 am

As someone posted above, and I've heard this often, it seems kids in sports lead the alcohol consumption.

The Saratoga boys were on the football team.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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