Q: My daughter is in her second year at college who recently came home with six of her friends over fall break. All six are 19. Things were going well until the last night. The girls were heading out to a local festival, and my husband left to attend a football, where I would join him after having dinner with the girls.

But it turned out that when I arrived at the game, I couldn’t find parking, so I returned home to find the girls still home and a cooler full of beer and a bottle of vodka sitting on the kitchen counter. Calling my daughter downstairs, I asked why she had the alcohol.

To my surprise, she snatched it off the counter and ran upstairs, saying that I couldn’t have it because it wasn’t mine.

Naturally, I followed her upstairs. When she wouldn’t come to my room to talk about this in private (the other girls were around), the conversation went something like this:

Me: “It’s disrespectful to drink in our house.”

Daughter: “We’re not going to drink it here but elsewhere.”

Me: “Great! Even dumber. Do you know of the rule for open containers in our state? The whole car can get cited. What kind of parent would I be to just overlook the alcohol and say, ‘Hey do you need some diet coke with your vodka?’”

She decided to put it away and assured me that they weren’t going to drink it. But I know they drink while away at college, so I printed out and gave her the medical reasons why the drinking age is 21, and also the state law pertaining to open alcohol containers.

I am pretty frustrated, but because I really don’t know what I should have said differently and if I should continue the conversation or just let it go. Help!

Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Naypong/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: Unfortunately, many parents react like you did when confronted with a child doing something wrong. Instead of acting, they, like you, talk about the misbehavior. You discussed why she shouldn’t drink as if she was a rational human being instead of a teenager making the wrong decision. Instead of confiscating the alcohol, you let her keep it and handed her a sheaf of paper listing why she shouldn’t drink it. But that’s water under the bridge now. While you can’t do anything about her drinking in college, here’s what you can do.

  1. If ever she has alcohol on her person or in her possession while in your home or vehicle, you take it and pour it out immediately. That’s it. She’s breaking the law and you could be held accountable for her actions while she’s in your house or car with alcohol.
  2. Instead of pointing out why drinking at 19 isn’t a good idea (and believe me, she knows she’s breaking the law!), tell her calmly that if she chooses to drink at college, that’s her business.

But–and this is a huge but–if she gets into any trouble relating to her drinking (on campus, off campus, while at home on break, etc.) whether she’s with friends who are imbibing or tossing back vodka shots on her own (in other words, if alcohol is involved in any way, shape or form to the trouble), then you are not going to pay for her college for at least an entire year, maybe more. If you’ve already paid for the current semester, she can stay. But you are not paying one more dime for at least 12 months until she’s proven she understands how to obey the law by not drinking. And then stick with it.

Yes, she might manage to drink and not get into trouble, but this should show her how serious you take her underage drinking is.