Parents, older siblings can be held accountable for underage drinking

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With an increase in the number of incidences involving underage drinking and binge drinking by teens on the weekends, be warned that Social Host Liability Laws are being passed throughout the country.

These laws hold parents — and, often, older siblings or other legal-aged-adults — accountable for hosting underage drinking events.

Two-thirds of teens who drink get their alcohol from parents or other adults, according to the 2003 National Academy of Sciences Report.  “Some parents believe that it’s safer for their teens to drink at home than to drink anywhere else,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health  Services Administration (SAMHSA).  Yet the responsibility can rest squarely on parents’ shoulders should something go wrong, as it often does.

Social host liability laws hold adults who serve or provide alcohol to people underage criminally liable if that minor is killed or injured —  or if that minor kills or injures someone else. The laws can also extend to parents who do not take sufficient measures to prevent underage drinking in their homes, even if they are not home when the drinking occurs. Parents can be charged for medical bills and property damage or sued for emotional pain and suffering.

Keep in mind Nelson County has a social host ordinance that makes it illegal to host a party where underage students are drinking.  Parents, older siblings, and friends can be arrested if they allow underage drinking to occur with their knowledge, even if they did not necessarily provide the alcohol.

No one has to get hurt for these laws to kick in — all it takes is alcohol being present at the party.

These are tips on teen parties:

• Help your teenager plan the party. Make a guest list and invite only a specific number of people.

• Have your child hand out or send invitations and try to avoid the “open party” situation.

• Don’t send e-mails invitations. They can be forwarded to many people quickly and you lose control of who has this information.

• Put your phone number on the invitation and welcome calls from parents.

• Set rules ahead of time such as no alcohol, drugs or tobacco. Set a start and end time for the party.

• Have plenty of food and non-alcohol beverages.

• Plan some activities such as music, games and movies.

• Let your neighbors know in advance there will be a party and that you will be there to supervise.

• Limit the party access to a certain area of the house/ property.

• Have a plan for dealing with vehicles. Include parking information on your party invitation.

• Call parents of any teens who arrive in possession of alcohol or under the influence.  If you can’t get in touch with the parents, keep the teen there or call the police if necessary. You can be civilly liable if you know they have been drinking and you let them leave.

• Secure all forms of alcohol, firearms and other hazardous items in a safe place.

• Familiarize yourself with your community’s noise ordinances.

• Frequently look in on the party area with sensitivity to teens’ need for privacy and independence.

• Invite some other parents to help chaperone if there will be many teenagers.