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There’s no question that alcohol and drugs are a part of adolescent lives for many boys and girls, and the proof is in the accidents and arrests we hear about every day that stem from substance abuse. Peer pressure for teens to try or regularly use substances is fierce, so parents must work harder than ever to protect their kids from this kind of danger.

One especially troubling behavior relates to the use of fake IDs. New research shows just how common it is for youth today to obtain a fake ID which can be used to purchase alcohol or enter establishments where alcohol is served. Arria and colleagues found that 66% of their youth sample had used a fake ID, and that’s a scary number. In addition, the researchers show that using a fake ID is also correlated with a higher likelihood of alcohol use disorders later in life.

How to handle the problem

Ask the awkward questions: If you’re a parent of a teenager, specifically ask your child if he or she has ever used a fake ID. Examples of how to ask: “I read an article about something that’s happening with a lot of teens today, and I realized that I should do my part as a parent and check in with you about this issue.” Realistically, few teens who use a fake ID are going to blurt out the truth when asked by a parent. The strong odds are that your child will say “no,” so follow that question up with another good question. “Do you know anyone who uses a fake ID? I remember a few people who did that when I was young, so you must have heard of some people either using one or trying to get one.”

Explain why using a fake ID is a terrible idea: Take the time to explain some of the dangers of using a fake ID. Specifically, do a little research online; read about teens who have recently been arrested; and show your child those articles online so that you can discuss them together. Say, “If, by some chance, you ever got arrested, what would that mean for your life?” Give them some prompts: “That would mean that everyone at school might find out; you wouldn’t get to take that school trip you’ve been wanting to take; and you might not get into that college you’ve had your eye on.” Kids need specifics; otherwise, they will tune you out!

Check in with a few other parents and school staff: Talking with your teenager about using a fake ID is the most important step to take to make sure that you are keeping your child safe, but don’t stop there. Reach out to a few parents of friends of your child and ask them if they are aware of any of the kids they know using a fake ID. (You may sound like a nag, but you are doing the best you can to protect your kid.) Also, call your child’s school and ask to speak to an assistant principal or a guidance counselor about the issue. Ask if any kids have been caught with a fake ID at the school, and ask if the school can incorporate a message about not using fake IDs when the school sponsors student trainings or conducts school meetings.

Ongoing discussions with your teenager: As a psychologist who works with both adults and children, I have found that many parents do the right thing by having a conversation with their kids about difficult issues – drugs and alcohol, safe sex, and so on – but parents sometimes forget to follow up on the issue later. In other words, the goal isn’t to have just one discussion but rather to include any given issue – say, using a fake ID – into an ongoing discussion with kids. An example: Once per month, have a check-in session about dangerous behaviors. You can have your discussion wherever it’s most comfortable your teenager and you: in the car; on a walk; during dinner; while you’re shopping; and so forth.

Final analysis

The hardest part of parenting teenagers is keeping them safe from adult temptations. As long as you regularly address uncomfortable issues with your child, you will be doing everything you can to keep them safe.


Arria, A.M., Caldeira, K.M., Vincent, K.B., Bugbee, B.A., O’Grady, K.E. (2014). False identification use among college students increases the risk for alcohol use disorder: Results of a longitudinal study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 38(3), 834-843.