Regardless of the motivation, parents who condone supervised drinking need to re-evaluate. They may convince themselves that their approach to such parties is foolproof. But data suggesting they are setting their children up for drinking problems later in life should lead them to find another way of navigating what is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges in raising teenagers.
Parents who supervise underage drinking in their homes may believe they are making the best of a difficult situation, but the ethical and legal lines they cross – not to mention the teen deaths associated with such parties – should serve as a sobering argument to stop.
This is not a recent phenomenon. In a survey by The Wall Street Journal and Harris Interactive in 2004, 23 percent of those polled nationwide said parents generally allow their older teens to attend such parties.
Hosting such parties is just one of many ways parents respond to horrifying stories about drunken minors killed in cars.
The most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that in 2006, 1,377 drivers between ages 15 and 20 were killed in car crashes in which they were legally drunk. Yet allowing minors to drink in your home has significant drawbacks.
It sends the message that following the law is a personal decision.
“When you undermine the law in front of children the message is not lost on them,” says Arlington, Mass., psychologist Michael Thompson, who has written several books on child rearing.
And it has unintended and sometimes deadly consequences.
Massachusetts' Social Host law came in response to a 1996 case in which an 18-year-old Marshfield, Mass., man died while driving home drunk after such a party. The scenario played out again two years ago, claiming the life of a Norwell, Mass., teen.
Other unintended consequences can play out later in life.
A study released earlier this year by the Rollins School of Public Health at Emery University found that adolescent girls permitted to drink alcohol in high school engaged in more college binge drinking than those who were not permitted to drink.
A similar study at Pennsylvania State University came to the same conclusions, regardless of gender, and suggested parents practice a zero-tolerance policy in the home. The study said students whose parents did not permit them to drink underage were significantly less likely to drink heavily in college.
Some parents may flout the law because they are more interested in being their children’s friends than upholding unpopular boundaries. Others may do it because they see teen drinking as a rite of passage.
Many more likely do it out of abject fear based on the never-ending barrage stories about teens sneaking off to get drunk and ending up dead.
Regardless of the motivation, parents who condone supervised drinking need to re-evaluate.
They may convince themselves that their approach to such parties is foolproof. They may rationalize their way around the fact that they are breaking the law and possibly betraying the trust of other parents. But data suggesting they are setting their children up for drinking problems later in life should lead them to find another way of navigating what is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges they face as parents.
Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.