Parents fail other parents in curbing teen drinking


The Dangers of Underage Drinking : My Instead Movie

Few things are scarier to parents than watching a teen child start the car and pull away from the house. Mom and Dad may have done their best in preaching good choices and modeling good behavior. But still ...

Still, there are those mass-media-pounded messages that alcohol use is glamorous and fun. Still, there is peer pressure. Still, there is the matter of the awful judgment of adolescence.

Parents are already at enough of a disadvantage without having to worry about other parents.

How so? Reports from The Dallas Morning News' Diane Jennings and Selwyn Crawford this week illustrate the betrayal parents feel when other adults are lax about teen drinking. Worse, irresponsible parents sometimes contribute to underage alcohol use.

State law appears to give police officers a hammer to bring down on adults who illegally furnish someone else's teenagers with alcohol. Violation of those laws can bring a year in jail and a $4,000 fine (not that it's easy to get a conviction).

The trickier territory is when it comes to should-have-knowns � when parents leave a party unattended or a house unattended for teens to do whatever with.

The town of Highland Park has a good way of addressing that by holding residents accountable through a "social hosting" ordinance. The law puts parents on notice that they will be held to a community expectation to stay alert for what goes on in their homes.

Highland Park police have the law behind them to bust a party and then go looking for the homeowner to find out the why, and so much the better. Warning homeowners has been the typical first step, and it seems to have sobered up most adults to their responsibilities.

Some parents may think that there's a "cool" factor in hosting a party that allows controlled teen drinking. That betrayal of other parents' wishes can be corrected by the local ordinance, too.

A Central Texas lawsuit involving former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips is testing the limits of assessing responsibility for a drunken-driving death linked to a party on his property. The 17-year-old victim's parents are suing the former chief justice and his wife under a civil statute, claiming they should have known teens were getting drunk in their Bastrop back yard, which the Phillipses dispute.

The dead teen's parents say their motive is bringing attention to adults' responsibility to be vigilant where alcohol is concerned.

No law absolves a parent of the duty of teaching their child good judgment and responsibility, especially where alcohol is concerned. But state and local laws give parents another tool for reminding all adults that the insidiousness of alcohol abuse is a common problem.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

� About 5,000 people under 21 die each year as a result of underage drinking. This includes about 1,900 deaths from vehicle crashes, 1,600 homicides, 300 suicides, as well as hundreds from falls, burns and drownings.

� Drinking continues to be widespread among adolescents. About three-fourths of 12th-graders, more than two-thirds of 10th-graders and about two in five eighth-graders have consumed alcohol.

� An individual who begins drinking as a young teen is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who waits until adulthood.

� Teens who drink are more likely to become sexually active earlier, to have sex more often and to have unprotected sex than teens who don't.

� Young people who drink are more likely to be victims of violent crime, including rape, aggravated assault and robbery.