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I had this debate with some friends who have older children. We keep our liquor in the cupboard above the fridge. When they get a bit older (still just 8 and 10) and could potentially be tempted about drinking or have friends who might push them, we thought we'd probably get a locking liquor cabinet of some kind. But then I remember lots of kids who had no trouble getting into their parent's locked cabinets, either having found the key or picked the lock. And all kinds of tricks involving replacing the volume of vodka removed with water, etc. So the other side of the argument is to just leave the liquor in the cupboard and be more serious about educating your kids on the dangers of underage drinking, and create kids you can trust. Because in the end you have to trust them anyway, and really if they end up wanting to drink they will find a way. Plus, locking it up just says "I don't trust you". So I don't know where I come down on this issue..

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I just realized the title of this could be interpreted as "do teens drive parents to drinking?" :) –  zipquincy May 7 '12 at 14:39
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I am sure that some do. But parents probably drive teens to drink more! –  tomjedrz May 9 '12 at 5:28
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I don't see how this question could be answered irrespective of the kids involved. Did they give you reason not to trust them? Are their friends morons? Such questions will greatly influence what the right answer is. And not to forget: how many years worth of pocket money do you have in your cupboard in the form of single malt and other spirits that some stupid teen might mix with Coke and kill in a single night ;) –  Christian Jan 17 '13 at 10:33
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14 Answers

I think my input on this matter should be quite useful, as I'm currently 17 (on the verge of 18, but that's irrelevant), and have done some drinking over the past year or so. My parents have no idea, or at least I assume they don't, and I don't intend for them to find out anytime soon, as I know I'll be punished to some extent. My father is an alcoholic, and while some people might point to that as the cause of my drinking, his alcoholism is what kept me from drinking for the first 3 years I was in highschool, where I have been offered several times.

Anyways, back to the issue. I only ever drink at my friend's house, and we only drink there because his recklessly irresponsible parents don't mind people drinking. Now, they take keys away and make sure nobody gets hurt, but realistically there is nothing they can do to make things completely safe. At my house, I have full access to an entire array of alcoholic beverages, and yet I just don't drink at home. Why? I see no purpose to it. I'll likely get in trouble, and I don't see drinking as the kind of thing somebody would/should do alone. If I really wanted to get past a locked cabinet, I'm sure I could, but I just don't feel the need to. My advice to you is this: warn your children and teach them to say no, and punish them if they ever get caught. However, don't expect them to be completely free of wrongdoing. I have 3 friends who regularly come to parties with us, and not once have they taken a drink. We respect them and don't force it on them. Make sure your kids have respectful friends who would do the same.

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What on earth are you doing on a parenting site? –  tomjedrz May 9 '12 at 5:28
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There's absolutely no reason why he shouldn't be here. Setting aside that our site was never intended to be exclusive to parents, the number of votes this answer has received is all the confirmation necessary to demonstrate that the perspective he brings is both welcome and useful. –  Beofett May 9 '12 at 10:54
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@tomjedrz teenagers on the internet love all sorts of different kinds of 'adult centric' sites. ;) –  DA01 May 9 '12 at 14:54
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@Beofett It was really a rhetorical question, along with some hope that the 17 year old isn't a parent. –  tomjedrz May 10 '12 at 19:54
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@tomjedrz Fair enough. I just didn't want a new user to think he might not be welcome here :) –  Beofett May 10 '12 at 19:58
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No.

Based on personal experience, I'm going to answer no because it's a matter of family style. My family also had a liquor cabinet and it was not even high up so even a kid could reach it.

But we were never tempted. We knew that liquor is adult stuff, and at some point we'd been offered something that tasted horrible. We just weren't interested.

We also didn't have friends over that were of the "go on, I dare you" type.

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@corsiKa: My mistake; I meant that chemicals need to be secured from children but not really for teens. By that age they should know what's dangerous! I have removed that part now. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 8 '12 at 6:17
    
This was basically my experience growing up. Alcohol was around, but I never had any interest in drinking it, but that may just be because my parents weren't really interested in drinking either. –  Brendan Long Sep 4 '12 at 23:33
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Here is a slightly different answer: "If you don't teach your children how to drink responsibly and how to effectively deal with alcohol, who will?"

Assuming a mostly US audience (it's quite different in other countries that I lived in): Alcohol is illegal for anyone under 21. Providing alcohol to teenagers or enabling teenage drinking may get you into serious legal trouble. As a result many parents instantiate either for legal or for moral reasons a strict "no alcohol" policy.

The problem is: it doesn't work. 99% of all high school kids know how to get access to alcohol and drugs. In college, alcohol is easily available (regardless of what policy the university claims to have and enforce). As a result many teenagers and young adults drink in very unsafe situations. If someone gets seriously ill or injured, the other kids are very reluctant to get help, since they are (rightfully) afraid to get into trouble. If someone is behaving badly, is taken advantage of, or simply can't make any decisions anymore, there is no one there to mitigate and manage the situation. Sorry for being graphic: a girl in my daughter's dorm who had little alcohol experience before college would get hammered every night and when being drunk have sex with any random guy. Lots of them. Next day she felt bad about it, so she started drinking and do it all over again. This is NOT a particular rare or atypical case.

Don't think it will not happen at the "nice" schools. It does. One of my sons goes to a school that's on everyone's "top ten colleges of the world" list. At least they acknowledge the fact that it's happening: You can have a party on hall but you MUST have a dedicated party monitor who stays sober and free condoms are provided. In one case my son was the party monitor and probably saved a life since a girl had a severe case of alcohol poisoning he called in EMT services.

Now a good party and responsible alcohol use can be great fun and it's an integral part of college life and our social culture in general. The challenge for parents is how to best prepare the kids for it. The "no alcohol before 21" approach seems silly. You don't teach kids how to swim by waiting until they are "old enough" and then throw them in the deep end. Your personal approach may vary but we made sure that all our kids had their first alcohol experiences in a safe environment and that they had a chance to safely figure out how they personally react to it, how much is "too much", and what happens if you have "way too much".

Much more important than locking the cabinet (or not) is to talk openly and honestly with your children about what alcohol is, what it does and what it doesn't do, and figure out a safe plan for them to learn how to behave responsibly, allowing for the occasional misstep along the way.

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I agree with Torben. You don't need to secure the liquor, at least at the age range you are asking about.

Education is more important than physical barriers.

A lock on the liquor cabinet won't help you when your children go to a friend's house, and the liquor there isn't locked up. Teaching your child not only that they shouldn't drink at that age, but also why they shouldn't will work just as effectively away from home as it will in your house.

More importantly, teaching your child how not to succumb to peer pressure will be beneficial in a lot more scenarios than just underage drinking.

The one exception is if there is evidence of an existing problem. If you have evidence that your child was engaged in underage drinking, then it is entirely appropriate to lock up any alcohol in your house, or, better yet, remove the temptation completely.

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We do not have a locked drinks cabinet, but just as an info point - I taught my son how to pick locks when he was 5. It took me about half an hour to give him enough of the basics that he could get into or out of any locked area in the house. A teenager can teach themself from online tutorials such as the very handy one from MIT. *

All three of my kids get a taste of wine or beer occasionally if I'm having some with dinner - they don't like them - and every now and then I'll see if they want a sip of whisky. They get a sniff and decide it is pretty disgusting, persuading themselves they aren't interested.

Conclusion:

  • Locks - ineffective
  • Awareness - pretty effective so far

(*I see the ability to pick locks as a very useful safety feature, which has helped one of my kids escape from being stuck in an accidentally locked room once.)

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Correction: MIT objects to being associated with the guide, so now it's called the Document Formerly Known as the MIT Guide to Lockpicking. –  200_success Aug 18 '13 at 7:34
    
That's excellent @200_success :-) –  Rory Alsop Aug 18 '13 at 11:00
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As with most of the questions on a parenting forum, there is not a single correct answer. It depends so much on the personalities of your children. If one of our children had a special problem with alcohol, that would be one thing. But anything can be abused, so alcohol isn't really unique in this regard. I find that when I give something a "special" status, my children are all the more curious about it.

In our household, my wife and I have tried to treat alcohol like any other ingredient in our pantry. We instruct our children as to the consequences of overindulging in sugary treats, and we've discussed the effects of alcohol.

So far, none of our children (the older two are pre-teen) like any of the alcoholic drinks they've tried, so monitoring their consumption of sugar is a far greater difficulty for us.

We've taken the approach that our children need permission to take anything from the kitchen, unless they've purchased something with their own money. If we were to catch them sneaking from the liquor cabinet, they wouldn't be disciplined for taking alcohol but for "stealing."

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YES

We put locks on our liquor cabinet when our daughter hit age 12. I think a locked liquor cabinet is a good idea, particularly if there are situations where the kid is home alone with any frequency.

The primary reason is that give your child an easy excuse to resist peer pressure. A friend is over, and wants to raid the cabinet. It is easy for the kid to say "sorry, the booze is locked up and I don't know where the key is" without being stuck up or a killjoy.

The secondary reason is to make it a bit harder for the kid to cross the line.

The last reason is to make sure the message is clear that kids should not be drinking.

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+1 for the excuse. –  deworde May 10 '12 at 8:56
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I'd take a social engineering approach, and just have it appear locked. Tell the daughter that it "isn't really locked, because we trust you; its because we don't know the other kids well enough". With a good relationship in place, not breaking that trust will likely be more of a reward than giving into peer pressure. Letting the kid in on being able to use the excuse makes that trust feeling even stronger and ads a hint of it being an inside joke that you're letting her in on. Fight fire with fire. –  Ape-inago Jun 16 '12 at 1:22
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One of the nicest gifts my Mom gave me as a teen was permission to make her the bad guy to my friends. –  Karl Bielefeldt Sep 4 '12 at 19:23
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@Ape-inago I disagree with that approach, because then the kid is forced to lie to her friends. Further, you don't think that teenagers will test the locks? –  tomjedrz Oct 10 '12 at 19:23
    
@tomjedrz, it isn't any worse than parents lying about santaclause. If anything it is a good way to introduce your children to the morals of lying from a more adult viewpoint. –  Ape-inago Nov 8 '12 at 1:24
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My father was an alcoholic, and I never had an interest in the whiskey, gin or beer present in our home. After all, why would I want to be like my father when I had to live with how he treated me after drinking?

I live in the EU now, so drinking laws are more lax over here; I do have liquor in a cabinet, which I use for baking cheesecakes or desserts, or on rare occasions something alcoholic for myself when we have guests over for a party. It's not locked, and I have both a (soon to be) 21 year old daughter 4 year old son. He's never seen us open a bottle from in there, nor remove a bottle from the cabinet.

We have also taught him that everything in that cabinet is not a toy (I have some glasses, china, pictures and bric a brac in there as well), and that he is not allowed to play with anything in the cabinet. We've never had an issue with him getting into it, nor my daughter when she was younger (teenager).

Yes, I believe in raising kids you can trust - and that comes by being up front and honest about everything - risks and rewards. She's in college in the US now, and understands the risks she takes if/when she drinks alcohol - even in her own apartment off-campus. Would I be happier if she waited until she's 21? Yes - but only because of legal repercussions which could occur if she's caught drinking while underage.

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You know what? I remember lots of kids who had no trouble getting into their parent's locked cabinets, either having found the key or picked the lock. And all kinds of tricks involving replacing the volume of vodka removed with water, etc. just leave the liquor in the cupboard and be more serious about educating your kids on the dangers of underage drinking, and create kids you can trust. Because in the end you have to trust them anyway, and really if they end up wanting to drink they will find a way. Plus, locking it up just says "I don't trust you".

That's my advice (=

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Of course you can lock your liquor cabinet, but it won't prevent your child from helping him/herself if he/she wants to.

At home it was always clear that the alcohol in the liquor cabinet was "for the family" (in facts for guests, as my parents only drank wine which they shared with children on sundays). My father only told me "Do what you want, but don't make stupid things, and don't get caught" (he meant he didn't want to see me drunk, well he never did, as I never saw him drunk in my life).

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Just because you think kids will have sex anyway doesn't mean you should hire a hooker for their birthday. The question you should be asking is how to make it as easy as possible for them to make the right choice. Like the proverbial driver keeping as far away as possible from the cliff's edge, the more obstacles you can put in the way, the safer they are going to be.

That means it's not a false choice between education, a trusting relationship, a threat of punishment, or a strong lock. You can do all those things. It's Ronald Reagan's maxim of trust, but verify.

Alcohol is tempting for teens because it's seen as an adult thing to do. What's harder to see are the rules adults impose on themselves, so tell them about those. It has probably never occurred to them to wonder why you don't get hammered every night, even though nothing is stopping you.

Along those lines, when an adult wants to abstain from alcohol, they don't keep any in the house. Maybe that's unrealistic, but you also can't beat the message it sends, that alcohol isn't required to be an adult. It's something to consider.

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I think it's OK to have a liquor cabinet, but I think it's wrong (or at the ver least unnecessary) to lock it.

Your children should know what they can't do and why (like using your or any liquors for several reasons), but they should also know that you trust them.

Putting a simple barrier is enough to make the intention clear. Putting a strong barrier makes them want to break it. They can't trust you if you don't trust them and take arbitrary decisions. You can't expect them to be rational and demand from them that they use critical thinking and reason before taking action if your own resolutins are not based on substantiated and reasoned arguments but are arbitrary rules.

And in response to someone mentioning it prevents peer pressure in the case of an home-party and their friends wanting to raid their cabinets... If you can't trust your kids to tell you the truth about who did, then there's a problem somewhere else. If they lie to you, it's either because they're scared of disproportionate consequences (because they actually did do it or didn't prevent it), or because they are afraid you won't believe them, or because they're afraid your reaction will be unjust in other ways.

If by any misfortune that boat has already sailed for your kids anyways, then yeah, you might resort to locking stuff away. But it won't do anything to fix the problems.

For the record, maybe I appear quite liberal on this, but underage drinking isn't such a disproportionate issue in my country. The legal age for buying alcohol yourself is 18, though it's very common for kids to consume long before that, in reasonable volumes on exceptional occasions, and in probably fairly excessive volumes as you can imagine when unsupervised. However, we don't have, at least in our area, proven damaging and long-lasting effects. Problems are the exception, not the norm.

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As my oldest neared drinking age, and told us about a friend who was drinking the parental beer stash from the basement (I guess if you buy 24 at a time and drink 3 or 4 at a time you won't miss one or two) we considered locking up the liquor. What we did was pour down the drain all the really sweet "teeny pop" stuff like peach schnapps that had been sitting in the back of that cupboard since before we were parents. That left scotch, chartreuse, gin etc - not super appealing to that age group. The kids and their friends were essentially never in the house alone, so we didn't worry overly much that they were helping themselves.

Later, when they were old enough to drink, they were allowed alcohol at their parties, and were forbidden from providing alcohol to underage guests. (We also had rules we never thought we would have like "nobody is allowed on the roof if they've had even one drink" and "nobody is allowed to chop firewood if they've had even one drink" which not only my children, but the guests as a group were respectful of. This was made easier by the fact that typically half the party would not be drinking.) We're "wine on special occasions, beer on a hot day, once in a blue moon spirits" drinkers so the kids were familiar with the concept, but didn't see it happen much.

Results:

  • one child who got pukingly drunk elsewhere weeks before being legal to drink - one of those times I had to make good on the "I will come and get you no questions asked" promise and who now drinks occasionally and appropriately
  • many parties at which newly-legal guests brought their own alcohol, some guests imbibed and some did not. Minors were probably served, but not by the hand (or wallet) of one of mine, which is important to me. Some puke stains on the carpet, no-one ever drove away from the house drunk, and no babies were conceived here (those of you who fail to see those as wins do not have children over 20 yet)
  • one child who doesn't drink, smoke, or do drugs and bears a tattoo symbolizing that commitment
  • assorted friends of those children who appear to have been raised much the same way who struggle with addiction, and others who do not yet know how to drink properly, with no particular clues to indicate why, other than luck, so I don't get smug

I'll take it. There were times I worried about one of mine wrt alcohol, but at the moment I think it's all good.

We talked a lot about drinking - about pressure from friends, about symptoms of alcohol poisoning (having a friend who drives an ambulance and tells you about a call to a teen who passed out and can't be woken is eye opening) and so on - but so did the other families as far as I know.

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"That left scotch, chartreuse, gin etc - not super appealing to that age group.". Hmmm, what's the age group you think that's not appealing for? I'm curious... Because if you think 12+, I'm sorry to have to break this to you, but... –  haylem Sep 4 '13 at 17:46
    
(but I like your approach) –  haylem Sep 4 '13 at 17:47
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My parents let me taste in front of them once and I did not like the taste. So, I never stole alcohol from an easily accessible and always open cabinet. I never really felt the need for it. Moreover, I like to be alert and in control of my senses all the time. But that is just me. Many kids end up liking it and some get into serious problems because of it.

I suggest that you allow the kids to taste it in front of you when they are like 16, even if your religion does not permit it. Hopefully, they won't satisfy their curiosity in a situation where you cannot guide them and there is a great chance of things going bad - frat houses for example.

Show them (especially to girls) plenty of examples of the effects of over indulgence, alcohol abuse and lack of control.

Also, try to raise them to be strong and resistant to peer pressure. Sometimes kids just drink to "fit in". With the right parenting, they all can turn out okay.

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