published Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Parents held responsible for underage drinking


Associated Press

NEW YORK — Parents of teens: If you think a drinking disaster at your kid’s party can’t happen at your house, not with your kid, because he’s a good kid, it’s time to wake up and smell the whiskey bottle tossed on your lawn.

Because of the high risk of underage drinking and driving this time of year, many parents open their homes to partying teens as a way to keep them off the roads. What some may not know is that liability laws can leave Mom and Dad vulnerable to lawsuits, fines and even jail time if underage drinking is found to be going on under their roof.

Parents can get in trouble even if they didn’t know about the drinking.

That’s what a Menlo Park, Calif., father says he is up against.

Bill Burnett, a Stanford University professor, was arrested the night after Thanksgiving over a basement party thrown by his 17-year-old son to celebrate a big high school football win.

Burnett said he and his wife had forbidden alcohol at the party and were upstairs at the time police received a call about possible drinking by minors. In fact, he said, he had twice made his way to the basement to check on the merry-making.

He spent a night in jail and was booked on 44 counts of suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Each misdemeanor count carries up to a $2,500 fine and nearly a year in jail.

Burnett questioned the deterrent value of laws that hold parents legally responsible even if they didn’t know there was alcohol at the party.

“In this case I think arresting a parent isn’t going to prevent kids from drinking,” he said on the “Today” show.

Eight states have specific “social host” laws that say parents can get in trouble if underage guests are drinking, even if no one gets hurt, according to the National Institutes of Health. (Some of those states allow parents to serve alcohol to their own children in some situations.)

Sixteen other states have laws that hold Mom and Dad legally responsible for underage drinking under certain circumstances — for example, if a teen who drank at their home got into a car accident, NIH said. In other states, parents can get in trouble under more general liability laws.

Stephen Wallace, a senior adviser at Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, which used to be called Students Against Drunk Driving, said that with an increased awareness of the dangers of underage drinking, law enforcement authorities are increasingly relying on social host liability laws to go after parents.

While he acknowledged that teens are adept at finding ways to drink on the sly, he said he is all for anything that gets at the problem of underage drinking. He said he finds it troubling that the Burnetts said they saw no alcohol consumed at their party.

“Parents need to say to kids, ‘You shouldn’t be drinking at all and you certainly can’t do it here because we can be put in jail,”’ Wallace said.

According to SADD research co-sponsored by the insurance company Liberty Mutual, more teens are saying that their parents allow them to go to parties where alcohol is being served — 41 percent in 2011, compared with 36 percent two years ago. Also, 57 percent of high school students whose parents allow them to drink at home said they prefer to drink elsewhere with their friends, Wallace said.

At some parties, the parents themselves supply the booze. In other cases, the kids bring it, sometimes with the hosts’ knowledge.

“Some parents feel helpless,” said David Singer of Demarest, N.J., who has 17-year-old twin daughters and a 20-year-old son in college. “Some parents feel they need to look the other way in order to help their kids fit in with the cool crowd. And some parents believe, ‘It’s better under my roof than who-knows-where.”’

Like Burnett, Singer said he doesn’t condone drinking by his underage kids under any circumstances. And yet he found a whiskey bottle in the yard after a party thrown by his son.

Burnett acknowledged he made a mistake but said he doesn’t believe police crackdowns like the one at his house do much good.

“All of this is probably going to go underground and result in a more dangerous situation for kids,” he told the online news network Patch. “I really don’t think it’s up to the police to help me parent.”

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wyldmon said...

What's worse is that if you go to a liquor store and ask them to not sell to someone you know is having a problem, the owner will roll their eyes and do nothing!

December 31, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.
esaletnik said...

wyldmon said... What's worse is if you go to a liquor store and ask them to not sell to someone you know is having a problem, the owner will roll their eyes and do nothing!roll their eyes and do nothing!

So.. you are the decider of who has a problem and who doesn't? It's a slippery slope if we start allowing our friends, neighbors and acquaintances to decide what we can and can't do.

December 31, 2011 at 1:44 p.m.
wyldmon said...

Yes, esaletnik I am. If you're a part of my inner circle (which you aren't, so grab a needle and stfu) I will do what I can to help you live a long, healthy and happy life.

December 31, 2011 at 3:30 p.m.
ThinBlue706 said...

Parents should be responsible for their a degree. If it occurs in the parents house, yes the parents should be held accountable. If the children are outside the house and are drinking without the knowledge of the parents, then it is the childs responsibility. What ever has happened to self responsibility? If I have a drinking problem it's MY problem. I don't need anybody else's nose in my business. If I get into trouble, it's MY problem. People need to be worrying more about themselves rather than worrying about everyone else. On the other side of that is everyone needs to be self responsible. If you drink and get in trouble, you did it. One should not blame your parents, or the alcohol, or your friends. Own up to your mistake, pay your pennince, and don't do it again.

December 31, 2011 at 4 p.m.
Pizzaguy said...

So now a kid will drink to intentionally get his parents thrown in jail because he didn't buy them a car for Christmas. I'll show them. This is an awful precedent.

December 31, 2011 at 9:02 p.m.
Lr103 said...

I thought holding parents responsible for their child's bad decisions was what most everyone in this city wanted. Weren't the great citizens of Chattanooga, not all that long ago, shouting for parents of truant teens to be hauled away in put in jail? Even if the parents were at work and unaware their child might be skipping school? Wasn't there a case about in knox county a few years ago where a mom was locked up in Tennessee because daughter had missed school due to severe asthma, although she had documentation and doctors' statements?

The mom says she was sleeping as police arrived at her home to make the arrest. "The officer said, 'You're being arrested. You need to get up right now and get ready to go.' I said, 'Can you tell me what I'm being arrested for?' He said, 'Your charge is contributing to (the delinquency of a) minor.'"

The mother argues that her daughter missed school because of asthma. "So here she's wheezing really bad and going into the school and having the roughest time and the nurse would say, she can go back home."

The mom claims she presented doctors' excuses and had already turned in paper work to homeschool her child, but the explanation didn't work on the arresting officer.

"I said, but she's home schooled. I have proof of this. I can show you. He said, 'It does not matter. The warrant has been issued and I have to serve it.'"

December 31, 2011 at 10:12 p.m.
Brandon7 said...

According to statistics, the first use of alcohol typically begins around the age of 13. By their senior year, 65 % of high school students say they have been drunk at least once. And other 35 % say they have been drunk in the past month…Also, teenagers who drink heavily are more likely to cut class or skip school, perform poorly in school, take sexual risks, and commit suicide. Thus, if there are teenagers among those who read this article, please think about this and don’t make your parents take cash loans in order to finance your possible treatment…Remember that heavy drinking increases the likelihood of delinquent and violent behavior including running away from home, fighting, vandalizing property, stealing and getting arrested…Let’s stop it together.

March 20, 2012 at 4:07 a.m.
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