Just Saying No To Alcohol at Graduation Parties

Mixing booze and high school graduation parties may not be a dilemma for all parents, but it sure has become one for me this year.

 Actually, let me clarify “dilemma.”

I’m super clear about how I feel about alcohol. I’m not in favor. It’s one of my core values (parenting and otherwise). I don’t judge lawful adults who do imbibe; it’s just not for me.

I’m similarly confident when I assert that drinking is not appropriate or beneficial for young people. In fact, it can be quite dangerous physically and psychologically to them and those around them. 

I heartily agree with every one of the 27 Reasons NOT to Serve (or turn a blind eye to) Alcohol at High School Graduation Parties” outlined by Seddon R. Savage, MS, MD and Director of the Dartmouth Center on Addiction and Recovery (and parent of 3).

Then there’s this: Drinking is against the law for those under the age 21, (although there are exceptions).

Trust me, the blinders are off. As an educational therapist and mom parenting in the 21st century, I understand that many high schoolers experiment with drinking – and most college students make a habit of it. But it’s still not something I support or condone.

My own three kids (18, 20 and 23) seem to have a normative relationship with alcohol, drinking in ways I deem responsible. It’s still not ideal from my perspective, but I respect and trust their judgment about alcohol because they’ve given me every reason to do so.

So what, you may ask, is my dilemma?

With apologies in advance to my high school graduate, it is this:

He has been invited to a two-day, un-chaperoned and unsupervised beach house party seven (7) hours drive from home at which there could be up to 30 students – and plenty of booze.

I said No.

My son wasn’t happy. “Everyone is going,” he said. “I’m the only one who isn’t allowed to go!”

Naturally, he noted all the reasons I should let him attend.

1.    He has never gotten overly intoxicated.

2.    He has never had so much as one beer (and this is a hulking 6’, 200+pound guy) and gotten behind the wheel of a car.

3.    He has never missed curfew.

4.    He has never put himself in a dangerous situation.

5.    He has always demonstrated good judgment around alcohol.

He’s right on all counts. While I know my son’s not perfect, all 5 points he made are completely true. But I’m not concerned about him overdrinking.

I’m concerned about the other 29, whose drinking habits, tolerances and values I don’t know.

I’m uncomfortable about the lack of responsible adults (read: parents) anywhere in the vicinity.

I’m uneasy about the distance from home.

I’m exceedingly worried about the proximity to water.

I’m keenly aware of the possible drama of a co-ed weekend trip.

As an adult, I know the potential for catastrophic problems is huge.

On top of all that, precisely because my son is so dependable and has such good judgment, I know he’s going to feel a sense of responsibility if something dangerous or problematic does unfold.

Of course, he’s hoping I change my mind.

The dilemma is that as much as I wish I could…as much as I don’t want him to “miss out” on what he believes is essential to feeling graduated…I have to adhere to my values.

But it’s not easy.

I’m a little surprised to find myself here. After all, I’m a parenting coach, an educational therapist and someone who has tons of parenting confidence. I’m not someone particularly susceptible to parental peer pressure. Yet still, I feel conflicted.

With all my heart I want him to go and be with his friends and celebrate his achievement. But given the conditions, I can’t keep him safe. And that’s still part of my job as his parent.

If I didn’t have to be out of the country that weekend, I actually would find a way to make it tolerable for me so that he could go. Namely, I would drive there and stay at a B&B so I would be nearby if problems arose.

But that’s not the case, so my answer must remain No.

Much to my surprise, a lot of parents are okay with parties like this beachfront fest. They will take turns chaperoning at similar fetes throughout the party season, and presumably watch underage kids consume alcohol.*

Call me old-fashioned, but is a party where drinking is central truly the only way to celebrate one’s high school graduation?

I’m afraid I don’t understand why our society has entwined celebration with alcohol so deeply that most people don’t believe you can do one without the other – even teenagers.

To prove just how binary the association is, my son turned down an offer from his stepmom to host a supervised-but-alcohol-free graduation party at her lake home – complete with swimming pool, tennis court and meals all weekend. “My friends wouldn’t come,” he said simply. Booze is that vital to their idea of fun.

As Dr. Savage so eloquently points out in #17:

·      If there were no alcohol at ANY graduation parties…kids would be just as likely to laugh, dance, make-out, stay up all night, party and have a good time.

I agree.

So here’s my plea as June graduation season rolls around. Let’s all, as parents, “Just say No” to alcohol at graduation parties this year.

And let the fun begin.


* Unaware of the risk of serving alcohol to minors? These legal tips for parents hosting graduation parties are most assuredly worth a read


** UPDATE:  After I wrote this piece, my son and his friends recognized that I was not the only parent to have serious concerns.  Chaperones are now in place.  Rules have been established. Carpools have been set.  My son and I have discussed my fears; we have reviewed potential scenarios and anticipated consequences.  He gets to have his celebration and I get to keep my peace of mind.