Hosting a party with underage substance use can result in civil and criminal liability for the adults involved. This applies whether the party is at your home or in a rented facility such as a recreation center, club or hotel.
Social Host Ordinances in many cities and towns hold parents strictly accountable and impose steep fines. Parents also may be sued civilly for damages if something goes wrong, such as an overdose or accident. Additionally, adults can face criminal misdemeanor charges for "furnishing” substances to a minor or “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”.
Accordingly, extra care should be taken to keep youth parties substance-free. To learn more, see Legal Consequences.
How to Host a House or Other Party
PLAN AHEAD. The overarching advice when hosting a party is to plan ahead. Planning a party together with your child offers an opportunity to have an open, healthy conversation about your rules, values and expectations, as well as the responsibilities and liabilities assumed when hosting a party.
SET GROUND RULES. Discuss your ground rules that need to be followed for the party to happen. Make clear that no alcohol, marijuana, smoking, vaping or other drugs will be allowed. Make sure your child is aware of the legal repercussions you face as an adult and host.
Establish that if a guest brings alcohol or other drugs, it will be confiscated and/or the child will be asked to leave. If a child shows up under the influence, guests won’t be just kicked out. Instead, a safe ride, preferably directly home, with a sober adult or teen will be provided or an Uber, Lyft or taxi ride will be ordered. Have your child inform each invitee of these rules in advance.
Other ground rules include a definite start and end time, designated areas of the home which will be open or off limits and the number of invited guests. Consider sending an email to parents informing them of your ground rules and giving out your contact info.
AGREE ON A GUEST LIST AND LIMIT ATTENDANCE. Invitations via group chat, email, or social media method can be duplicated or widely forwarded. Consider another method or make clear the party is not an open one and there is a set guest list. Greet guests as they arrive and consider checking names off as they enter. Don’t admit party crashers. If it’s a large party, consider the use of customized wristbands that are handed out to each guest as part of the invitation.
Require belongings to be left at the door or hall closet. This includes backpacks, large purses, coats and any presents. Teens have been known to sneak in alcohol or drugs in beautifully wrapped gift boxes. The internet offers a dizzying array of products designed to hide substances, e.g., plastic pouches that attach to underwear. Don’t underestimate their creativity!
DON'T ALLOW OUTSIDE FOOD OR BEVERAGES. Water bottles can be filled with vodka and soft drinks can be mixed with alcohol. Marijuana edibles are also easily disguised. Serve plenty of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.
NO "IN-AND-OUT" PRIVILEGES. Partygoers who choose to leave should not be allowed to re-enter. Consider hiring security if you are hosting a large party.
PLAN ACTIVITIES AND THEMES. Music is a given. Consider a theme party centered around participation such as games (glow in the dark tag is fun if you have a big back yard), karaoke, pizza making, creating videos, silent disco, etc. Get creative!
Secure any alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs. Keep it all out of sight, preferably under lock and key. Safely discard unused prescriptions drugs before the party.
Notify your neighbors and alert your local police department. Ask your neighbors to keep an eye out for any behavior they think is questionable and to call you with any issues. Many police departments will be happy to increase patrols.
CIRCULATE DURING THE PARTY. Be visible, available and aware of what’s going on. Do so even if you are hiring security. If you are not hiring security, then invite another parent or couple over to help with chaperoning
Circulate regularly through the party, frequently checking out of bounds areas, including your yard, outside in cars and the streets. Stay sober yourself and consider modeling abstinence for the evening for children to see you can socialize without alcohol.
NEVER ALLOW ANYONE UNDER THE INFLUENCE TO DRIVE. Order an Uber/Lyft/Taxi or have a sober adult take the child directly home.
DON'T ALLOW AN INTOXICATED GUEST TO "SLEEP IT OFF". Alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses can be fatal, and laypeople cannot assess the medical condition of a person under the influence. Call 911 immediately for an unconscious or unresponsive guest. “Good Samaritan” laws grant immunity to minors and adults who seek medical assistance, provided certain conditions are met. Read our blog on Calling 911 and Good Samaritan Laws.
Attendance at House and Other Parties
At the very least, parents should ask their child for the location of a party their child is attending and the names of the parent hosts are.
USE THE BTI PARENT DIRECTORY. Determine whether the hosting parents are BTI participants. If so, consider reaching out. If not, consider making contact using other means such as asking your child or checking your school directory.
DETERMINE IF THE PARENTS ARE AWARE OF THE PARTY AND ASK QUESTIONS. Inquire whether they will be present and actively chaperoning the party. Although it can be uncomfortable to ask additional questions, doing so will give you peace of mind. In particular, ask:
• What is the start and end time?
• Is this is an invite-only or open party?
• If it's an invite-only party, how many guests
• Who will be chaperoning the party?
• Will substance use be prohibited?
• What measures will be taken to ensure it will
be substance free?
• Will there be “in-and-out” privileges for
• Will there be security?
• What are plans if things go awry?
• Can I give you my phone number so you
can contact me if there’s an issue?
DROP YOUR CHILD OFF IF POSSIBLE. If you drop your child off, consider introducing yourself to the host’s parents. Provide your phone number and encourage them to call if there are any issues. discuss with your child whether they should stay and if you allow, require frequent checkins (You can leave first and have your child follow a few minutes later to save face). Carefully consider sleepover requests, especially if last minute. Contacting a parent before you say yes is advisable. If you allow one, ask your child for a FaceTime or other check-in by a certain time.
Party buses are popular for special events such as Prom and can be a lot of fun. However, they are “parties on wheels” and without precautions, party buses can involve risky levels of binge drinking and other drug use. Parents can take several measures to help ensure there are no substances on the bus.
RENTING THE BUS. Most bus companies require a contract signed by an adult. If you are the one renting the bus, read the contract carefully, as they typically hold the renter responsible for any damage and extra clean up. Also be aware that renters are considered “hosts” under some social host laws and may incur legal consequences for underage substance use.
The positive aspect of signing the contract is the parent can set their own rules and require that all passengers and their parents agree to these rules ahead of time. This is highly advisable. Examples are that any backpacks, large purses and any wrapped gifts will either be opened and/or kept in the outside storage compartment, and no water or food can be brought on the bus (the host should provide water).
Be sure to rent from a reputable bus company that is licensed, has adequate liability insurance and qualified bus drivers. Some bus companies require chaperones as a matter of company policy or you may consider providing your own.
CONTACT THE HOSTING PARENT. As with house parties, parents are advised to contact the hosting parent to determine whether there will be substances allowed on the bus and what measures will be taken to prevent substance use, such as the ones suggested above.
Where’s the Party by Jonathan Scott and Kelly Townsend. This book is the ultimate guide to issues surrounding teen parties. It also includes an excellent discussion of the teen brain, consequences and understanding peer pressure.