Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sue Scheff: Supervising Parties by Connect with Kids

“As we walked out to the street to see what all the commotion was about, the van had 30-foot flames shooting out of it. Someone had screamed that there was a girl inside who they had pulled out of the van.”

– Bill Strickland, father

With spring break and prom just around the corner, parents have good reason to be extra vigilant about underage drinking -- and not just to protect their own kids. With more states enacting parental liabilities laws than ever before, parents also have to protect themselves.

Brad Brake and Bill Strickland are neighbors, and their daughters wanted to have a party.

“They basically asked if I would provide alcohol and I wouldn’t, and Bill wouldn’t,” says Brad, father. “And I basically let it be …you’d almost call it turning a blind eye.”

The dads’ policy: don’t ask; don’t tell. But more than 200 kids showed up at the party -- many with their own alcohol.

“This is a news clipping from the day after our party. And it says ‘West Side erupts in bizarre night of violence’ and I highlighted the ‘huge party’ [phrase]. Because that’s all that mattered to us,” laughs Shelby, 17.

Parties like this are one reason that 23 states have now passed “social host” laws.

“If you’re a homeowner, you have the positive responsibility to ensure that these out-of-control parties do not happen in your home. And if that happens, if it occurs and the police have to come, the firemen have to come, the ambulances have to come and someone gets hurt, you’re held responsible for the cost to the community,” says Jim Mosher, J.D., Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

The police did come to the girls’ party that night. It seems that two boys got into an argument and one went outside and threw gasoline into the other boy’s van.

“And as we walked out to the street to see what all the commotion was about, the van had 30-foot flames shooting out of it. Someone had screamed that there was a girl inside who they had pulled out of the van,” says Bill.

The girl from the van was passed out – drunk -- but the officers pulled her out just before the van filled with fire. For Bill and Brad, there were no arrests, no lawsuits, no fines. But many parents say it’s still a struggle to know the right thing to do.

“I can’t forbid my children from drinking. That’s the best way in the world to have them shut off from me, to not tell me the truth. And truth in my house is king,” says Bill.

Others say the solution is simple:

“We need to stop this, this is not okay. And it is particularly not okay that it’s happening with the concurrence and the support of parents,” says Mosher.

Tips for Parents

Parents need to know that hosting parties where alcohol is being served to minors is not only illegal, but also extremely dangerous for their kids, for others and for themselves, given the legal liabilities they face. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA)
While all states and the District of Columbia have 21-year-old minimum drinking age laws, more than 20 percent of young people below the legal drinking age reported driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (NHTSA)

A recent survey commissioned by The Century Council, a national non-profit organization dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking, revealed that 65 percent of underage youth say they get alcohol from family and friends (interpreted as meaning they get it from their parents, their friends’ parents, older siblings or friends, with or without their permission).
Most troubling, some parents have become willing accomplices in planning teen parties and turning a blind eye to alcohol use in their own homes. (NHTSA)

Laws vary from state to state, but in many states, parents who break these laws could be forced to pay all medical bills and property damages in the case of a crash, and could also be sued for emotional pain and suffering when there is severe injury or death. (NHTSA)

Parents should help plan their teenagers’ parties to ensure they are alcohol-free: (NHTSA)
Help make the guest list and limit the number to be invited. Send personal invitations to avoid the dangers of “open parties.”

Put your phone number on the invitation and encourage calls from other parents to check on the event. Think about inviting some of the other parents to help during the party and to help you supervise to ensure no alcohol or drugs are present, and to help ask uninvited attendees to leave.

At the party, limit access to a specified area of your property. Make sure there is plenty of food and soft drinks available. Make regular, unannounced visits to the party area throughout the evening.

Most importantly, tell parents to talk honestly with their kids to make sure their kids know they are concerned for their safety. (NHTSA)


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
The Century Council