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What if a teen arrives drunk to a party you are hosting? What should you do and do you have a duty of care?

I have had this query for a couple of weeks now and have been trying desperately to find someone who can give me some quality advice – unfortunately I keep meeting brick walls! It doesn’t matter who I talk to, I just can’t seem to get a straight answer of how best to deal with an issue that Australian parents are facing every weekend.

Recently I received the following email from a mother who had approached me the previous evening with her husband after one of my talks. At the time she told me about their experience with a teenage party and wanted my thoughts on the matter. I asked her to put it into an email so that I could follow it up (sorry about the length but it was difficult to edit) …

Late last year we decided to host a ‘gathering’ at our home for our son’s 15th birthday. We had attended one of your presentations before and were well aware of how important it was to set clear rules and boundaries around alcohol if we wanted the night to go off without too many problems. It was an invitation-only event and we restricted numbers to 40 (I must admit we buckled to pressure here – we originally said 20 but finally gave in and lifted the number. We did stand firm on no ‘plus-ones’ though). My brother-in-law is a part-time security guard and we asked him and one of his mates to help us with supervising the night, as well as dealing with any gatecrashers and the like. For the most part the night ran reasonably smoothly – there was certainly alcohol consumed, although I have no idea how they got it into the house as we searched bags, etc. (we didn’t find the empty bottles until morning) – but most of the kids were well behaved and seemed to have a great time.
It was not what happened at the party that was the problem, it was the state that some of the young people (mostly young women) arrived at the event that was so worrying. In the first hour we had three girls (all 14 years-old) who arrived in a cab so drunk that they were unable to walk. The taxi driver knocked on our door and told us that he had agreed to pick them up because he had seen them rolling around on the side of the road and was worried about their safety – he had a daughter of his own and was worried about them (a lovely man who didn’t even want the fare paid – can you imagine what could have happened to them if he hadn’t been there?). Throughout the night we had others, mainly girls, who knocked at our door not quite as drunk as those three, but still very much worse for wear.
Our question is how should we have dealt with this situation? All of them were extremely difficult to deal with (most would not give us their parents’ numbers and the terrible trio were screaming blue murder when my brother-in-law tried to stop them leaving the party when we told them that they couldn’t go in with the others) and what concerned us most was our duty-of-care. Were we liable if something happened to these girls if they wandered off into the night?

As I’ve said, I have tried to get some answers from both the police and lawyers on this issue and neither were really able to help me. The whole issue of teenage parties and alcohol is one that is extremely difficult to deal with from a legal perspective. We now have most jurisdictions with secondary supply laws (preventing adults from supplying alcohol to minors, without explicit permission from their parents) but even these are difficult to police (don’t get me wrong, we need these – they may be hard to police but they give parents an ‘out’, i.e., “I can’t give you alcohol to take to a party, it’s illegal”). When you add trying to ensure that partygoers don’t leave your event too intoxicated, dealing with drunk teens arriving at your home and how best to appropriately manage teens under your care if you (or others) shut the party down early and they spill onto the street, you have a potential minefield!

‘Pre-parties’ are now an integral part of many teens’ Saturday night (why any parent in their right mind would ever host one of these or even let them occur at their home is beyond me!) and when they’re really young (as with these 14 year-olds) you can bet the ‘pre’ was held in a park or at someone’s house where the parents were out. Getting ‘juiced-up’ before a party has been around for a long time (parents continue to tell me that they did it to some extent in their teens) but it certainly seems like they’re getting younger and the level of intoxication (at least for some of them) has increased dramatically. It really is no surprise that so many parents are simply refusing to host parties when they have to deal with such frightening and dangerous behaviour.

If and when I finally do get an answer to the question of ‘duty of care’ I will be sure to let everyone know. Regardless of the law, I’m sure there isn’t a parent around who doesn’t want to make sure that every teen who arrives at their house, no matter what state they’re in, is kept as safe as possible. It mightn’t necessarily be your legal responsibility but most parents couldn’t live with themselves if something happened to a drunk teen they sent away from their home without at least trying to do something. Until I do get some quality legal advice on the topic, however, here are a couple of suggestions on how to reduce the risk of having a child arrive drunk at a party, or what to do should it occur:

  • Ensure it is an ‘invitation-only’ event and make it clear on the invitation (yes, design an actual invitation!) that anyone who has been drinking will not be admitted. Make it clear that bags will be searched and all invitees will be met at the door and checked
  • As well as an invitee list, insist on RSVPs, which must include a mobile phone number of a parent. This can be extremely difficult to negotiate with your teen (particularly as they get older) – I guarantee they will see it as the most embarrassing thing ever – but realistically it’s the best way to ensure that if anyone arrives at the party in a state you feel uncomfortable with, you have a number to call to insist they come and deal with the situation. Unfortunately you will not always get the response you would think, with some parents simply suggesting that you put their child into a taxi and send them home as they are too busy to deal with it, or blame you for the state their teen is in
  • Designate a ‘safe space’ where anyone who arrives drunk can be put while they sober up – the one thing you do not want is for a heavily intoxicated teen to leave your house after being refused entry and then be hit by a car, sexually assaulted or collapse and choke to death. Having a space, away from the other partygoers, where they can sit and be monitored until they are feeling a little better can give you a little more peace of mind that they are a little safer
  • Always ensure you have both at least one male and one female greeting guests (you can call them ‘security’ if you want) – drunk teens, like adults, can be extremely difficult to deal with. An adult male trying to deal with a drunk 15 year-old girl could find himself in a great deal of trouble, particularly if he tries to restrain her in some way. To be on the safe side, adult females should always try to deal with young women who are causing trouble. Of course, if they become too problematic the men can assist, but whenever possible stick to females looking after females

My final comment on this will not come as any surprise to anyone who has seen me present or have read anything I have ever written- where were the parents of these 14 year-old girls? I would be very surprised (but to be completely honest, nothing surprises me anymore!) if they knew their little darlings rolled up to a 15th birthday party in a taxi and were unable to walk because they were so drunk. You can bet that their daughters had told them that they were at a ‘sleepover’ or the like and that they would be home sometime on Sunday afternoon and that they would text them at an appropriate time to let them know that they were safe … and they believed them! As I keep saying to parents, if you’re child tells you that they’re going to be somewhere – check! Of course they’re not going to want you to do that and they’re most probably going to hate you for it – but that’s your job!

Always remember, if you want to prevent or, at the very least, delay drinking and illicit drug use, just follow the three golden rules:

  • know where your child is
  • know who they’re with, and
  • know when they’ll be home

Looking for information or support services on alcohol or drugs?

If you or a friend or family member needs assistance in this area, Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS) are available in every state and territory. Each of these are each staffed by trained professionals who can help with your query and provide confidential advice or refer you to an appropriate service in your area.

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