COLUMN: For parents hosting teen parties this spring -- let's talk
Spring is upon us and the school year is dwindling down. In many households with high school students, there will be parties and celebrations for proms and graduations.
Parents of high school students I am going to ask you a favor that could potentially save a life — do not try to be the “cool” parent. Step up and take full responsibility for the prom and graduation parties you host — do not allow underage drinking!
In the State of Michigan, the legal age to drink is 21. It is a pretty simple and straightforward law. The only exceptions are that a minor may consume sacramental wine in a house of worship as part of a religious ceremony or in an accredited college class under the supervision of a certified faculty member — if it is a course requirement.
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What this means for parents hosting prom and graduation parties is that a parent can be charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor if underage drinking is allowed. Furthermore, the adult hosting the party can be held both criminally and civilly responsible if underage drinking occurs and someone is hurt or, heaven forbid, killed as a result of alcohol consumption at the party.
This means that parents hosting parties must take necessary precautions to make sure that underage drinking does not occur at the party. The booze should be locked up or otherwise inaccessible to potential underage drinkers. Parents are responsible for whatever goes on at the party. Therefore if a parent allows a party in the home, they must supervise it.
This also means parents must monitor who comes into the party and what "party favors" are being brought to the party. If someone brings alcohol to the party parents must-STOP IT and SEIZE IT. If the underage person who brought the alcohol (or drugs) to the party has consumed some, do not let them drive. Call the police if necessary, but keep that child off the road and prevent a potential tragedy.
Does this mean that there must be a parent at each corner of the basement, garage or backyard every moment of the party? No, but it means that frequent trips into the party to fill chip bowls or ice buckets and keep an eye on things is necessary. What is required is “reasonable” supervision.
It may be a delicate balance between adult supervision and killing any chance for the kids to have a good time. Therefore I suggest talking to your child before having a party. Talk to your young adult and discuss what acceptable behavior is for both parties. This is a good learning experience for your child. It teaches them how “adults” avoid future problems by setting certain boundaries before problems arise.
For those parents who are considering having an “overnight” party and allowing alcohol but keeping the underage drinker’s “safe” by taking their car keys. My advice is: Do not do it! Having consulted some young adults whose opinions I value and who are never far from a good time (spelled S-O-N-S, and their friends), this strategy does not work.
The problem well-meaning parents holding “overnight” parties confront is 21st century communications. Kids inside the party call kids orbiting from party to party outside the “supervised” overnight parties and arrange pick-ups, deliveries and surreptitious escapes in the wee hours of the morning. Furthermore, some students attending such overnight parties merely bring several sets of car keys.
Mom and dad, if you decide to have an overnight party, for instance on prom night, make sure there is no alcohol. Since other parents will be depending on you keeping their children safe — you better take a nap or stock up on energy drinks because you should be pulling an “all nighter” to supervise the party.
Parents of students attending parties out of the home, I urge you to communicate with the parents hosting those party. Perhaps they may need help or perhaps they did not even know about the party because they are out of town. Either way a friendly call and inquiry about the party and expectations expressed by both guest and host parents can prevent problems and keep our young adults safe.
Some parents may wonder if it is hypocritical to be so tough on underage drinking since they may have partaken in their youth. My response is that times and attitudes toward drinking have changed — the right thing to do in 2012 is to prevent underage drinking and perhaps save young lives in the process.
In 1982, when I joined the Ann Arbor Police Department, if an officer arrested an adult drunken driver, and he was not what would now be termed a “super drunk” peer officers would term the arrest “chicken scat” — perhaps a bit more vulgarly expressed.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) came along and changed all of that. Soon in police circles, the officer who could detect the “marginal” drunks was admired. Drunk driving laws have become stricter, and the roads have become safer.
Finally, parents, remember our children are the most important things in our lives. These young adults will be out on their own, making their own decisions, soon enough. Please parents, while you still can, keep your children safe! Set a good adult example for them during this spring party season. Obey the law and do not allow underage drinking at the parties you host.
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.