Important Tips for Parents to Prevent Underage Drinking

Summer vacation is a welcome break from school, but it comes with an unwelcome risk for teenagers, who are more likely to drink alcohol during summer when parents are at work and teens often go unsupervised.

Alcohol is often easily available to minors – they get it from older friends, strangers willing to buy it for them, store clerks who fail to check IDs, the internet, their friend’s parents and even their own parents.

County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) officials and the Sheriff’s Department are reminding adults that it is against the law to provide alcohol to minors, host underage drinking parties and to allow minors to drink.

“We urge adults to act responsibly and not provide alcohol to minors,” said Alfredo Aguirre, director of HHSA’s Behavioral Health Services. “Underage drinking is not a rite of passage. It’s dangerous. Giving alcohol to a minor can lead to criminal penalties, or worse, the loss of a loved one.”

Underage drinking can impact a teen’s health, safety and judgment, leading to consequences such as alcohol poisoning, injuries from assaults, vehicle crashes and unprotected sex.  

All 18 incorporated municipalities and the unincorporated areas of the County have adopted “social host” ordinances, making it illegal to host underage drinking parties. Any person who sells or provides an alcoholic beverage to a minor can receive up to a $1,000, six months in jail or both.

Local law enforcement agencies have increased enforcement of social host laws, issuing nearly 300 citations in the last few years. Those cases that end up in the court system have conviction rates.

Parents play a key role in preventing underage drinking. Health and safety experts recommend the following tips for parents to discourage underage drinking and other risky behavior.

Stay Involved: Show your children you care by spending time with them and doing something fun and interactive together.

Communicate: Regardless of the season, it is always a good to talk to your children about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

Set Rules: Establish clear rules regarding your expectations on drinking, as well as on unsupervised time spent with friends.

Supervise: This can be challenging especially for parents of high school students; however, be physically present when you can. When you can’t, ask a neighbor, relative or friend to check on them.

Monitor: Know what your children are doing and where they are at all times. Randomly call and text them.  

Engage: Help your children set some structure during summer by helping them find a summer job or engaging them in supervised activities, such as sports, camps and classes.

Team Up: Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Make sure they feel the same way you do about underage drinking.

Educating residents about making healthy and safe choices is part of Live Well San Diego, the County’s ongoing initiative to improve the health and well-being of residents.

If you have a tip about an underage drinking party, you can call the Crime Stoppers Anonymous Tip Line 24 hours per day at (888) 580-8477. You could be eligible for up to a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Parents who suspect their child might have a drinking problem are encouraged to call the County of San Diego Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 or 211.   

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact