“My friends and I had a big discussion after your visit to our school about what we would do if something went wrong when we were out drinking. The one thing that we all were worried about was being taken to an emergency department and them telling our parents. So my question is, if an ambulance took me to a hospital because I was really drunk, would the hospital call my parents?”
To be hospitalised after drinking too much or taking drugs is one of the most traumatic experiences a young person can have. Waking up in a hospital with a drip in your arm, often with no memory of what happened can be terrifying. Although many people think that teens want to know the answer to this question because they are worried about getting into trouble from their parents, it often has far more to do with the embarrassment and shame that many young people feel around letting their parents down.
This is most probably one of the most difficult questions I am asked to answer in schools and to be really honest I cannot give you a simple answer that will be absolutely correct every time. I wrote a book a number of years ago and I visited a number of emergency departments across the country and had discussions with staff in an effort to try to get a simple answer for this very complex question – to be honest I walked away empty-handed!
Hospitals are very hesitant to give too many details because no matter what they do, they can’t really win. If they say that they don’t call parents, you can pretty well guarantee that there will be a very angry parent who will go to a tabloid newspaper or current affairs show and attack the hospital and its staff for being irresponsible and not telling them that their child had been admitted. If they have clear guidelines that say they do call, they could be accused of putting young people at risk as this could lead to them simply not making the call for help. As I said, they really can’t win no matter what they do!
The one thing that seems fairly clear is that if the young person is under 16 years of age, the hospital has no choice. In those cases, they must contact the parent. When it comes to those aged 16 or 17, however, the rules appear to be a little more fluid. Hospital staff stress that decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and in my experience the response is very much dependent on the staff who are on duty at the time. For example, if there are older staff on duty who have teenage children of their own and they see a young person around the same age being brought into the hospital in a bad way, it is far more likely that they will call the parents! They would want to know about their child, they believe other parents should know too. Younger staff who may remember their own teenage years may be more likely to try to locate another relative to contact, but I need to make it very clear – there are no steadfast rules here.
Although there were so many varied responses from hospital staff as to their procedures and protocols in this area, one thing remained constant – all of them wanted young people to feel that they could call an ambulance without fear. Anything they could do to ensure that teenagers called for help in an emergency they would do.
Regardless of whether parents are called or not, I would hope that whoever was looking after a friend who was either drunk or drug-affected would never hesitate to call for help should the need arise. It is totally understandable that you may not want your parent to know that you were doing something you weren’t meant to, but when it’s the difference between life and death, a good telling-off or being grounded for a week or two means nothing and shouldn’t really even enter your thought processes!
First published: May 2015
Updated: April 2018