Q: This summer, my 16-year-old son will be home alone while I'm working. I'm concerned that he and his friends may go to the nearby quarry to swim and take some beer with them. Any suggestions to keep him safe?
A: We hope that by now you have had several conversations with your son about alcohol use and you have made it clear to him that any such used is forbidden, not only because it is illegal for someone under 21 to possess alcohol but also because alcohol plays a significant role in adolescent injuries and deaths.
Since you mentioned going to the quarry to swim, it is worth noting that research on adolescent drownings indicates that many teens had been drinking in the period before they drowned. Alcohol lowers individuals' inhibitions; as a result they often do things (swimming to far out from shore or diving into shallow water) that they would not do while sober. Many parents assume that their teens know their position on alcohol use so that a clear "no use" message never gets articulated. In addition, consequences for violating the no use policy are not imposed, which sends a mixed signal.
You may want to contact the parents of your son's friends to be sure that all of you are in agreement about this issue and that no one will be buying alcohol for them. At the same time, you may be able to develop a plan such that each day, one set of parents is responsible for supervising the activities and/or providing a place for them to hang out.
Alternatively, are there any organized activities in your community for your teen-ager to join? Teen-agers often drink out of boredom. Active participation in such activities decreases the likelihood that your son and his friends will be unsupervised and get into trouble.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.