Let’s Talk About It - Celebrating (safely)!

Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 4/28/2022

I have spent the past few days thinking about topics I could share with you all, topics that would be important in the “here and now” and I continue to come back to one that I shared at this time last year — celebrating safely.  

While there are so many topics I could cover, I feel this is one of the more important topics that never gets old, never changes, and always needs to be shared. That is why I have decided to re-share some important points from my original blog post back in April of 2021.  

All that has been asked of us, all that we have done to keep ourselves and others safe has been a full-time job in itself. We are in year three of watching our seniors graduate during another incredibly charged, emotionally exhausting time. For many of us, it is a time to celebrate and begin the return to normalcy.

While this year looks a bit more promising when it comes to “normalcy” for our seniors, there are still some challenges that need to be considered if/when it is decided to celebrate with family and friends. Graduation parties are often a time to celebrate all the successes and accomplishments of the graduate. While that should remain the focus, there are times when alcohol and/or illicit substances make their way into a celebration that not only change the overall mood of the celebration but can bring with it some serious legal charges.

I have talked plenty about the importance of modeling appropriate behavior for our teens and the importance of having open conversations about the use of any mood-altering substance. With graduation right around the corner, this is a perfect time to revisit and remind all adults of the importance of setting boundaries and expectations when it comes to substance use of any kind for young adults. Let’s not forget that the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s and any substance use can have an effect on how the brain develops and on future behavior (and future use).  

When celebrating, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and maybe let our guard down. I want to share with you some important information when it comes to social host ordinances in Minnesota. Some may be unfamiliar with social host ordinances,  and many parents and caregivers may not be aware of the legal consequences of hosting a party where there is alcohol available to underage teens. 

A social host ordinance makes it unlawful for individuals (social hosts) to knowingly provide a place for underage drinking to occur on premises under the host's control. The host is held responsible regardless of who provided the alcohol. The keyword is “knowingly.” If a parent or caregiver was unaware of consumption while away from the home they are not held responsible; however, there can still be consequences if a young person does leave under the influence and is involved in a legal matter after leaving. While not all cities have social host ordinances in place, there may still be legal consequences if a young person is supplied with any illicit substances by an adult. 

Celebrations can still be fun and memorable without alcohol, and whenever there is an opportunity to show our teens this, we should! Teens pay attention to us more than we'll ever know. Here are some tips to celebrate safely:

  • Host a “dry” party where no alcohol is allowed.
  • Know where your child is, where they are going, and who they are with.
  • Talk with your teen about your expectations.
  • Set clear boundaries and make sure your child is aware of them.
  • Create a safety plan that allows them to text you if they are feeling unsafe or need to exit their environment quickly.

There are a number of reasons why a teen will choose to drink alcohol and/or use an illicit drug.  Our own attitude towards this can set the stage for those teens who are watching us. There are ways parents can keep their children safe from addiction if the conversations begin when they are young and continue through their teen years. A good rule of thumb is to have 60 one-minute conversations on the importance of abstaining from substance use, rather than one conversation for 60 minutes! Hearing the message on more than one occasion will make a lasting impression.

Celebrations at the end of the school year should be fun, memorable, and above all else, safe. As always, my hope is that you have enough information at your fingertips to help your student and if given the opportunity, you can say, “Let’s Talk About It!”

Colleen O'Neil

Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
Phone: 763-506-1145
Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us