Sunday, October 2, 2016

Cool Parents and the Law

A new Maryland law has gone into effect.

Underage drinking: Allows prosecution of adults who knowingly allow people under 21 to drink alcohol in their homes when the adult should know that the underage drinker would then drive and when the result is a crash causing serious harm. Sets penalty of up to a year in jail.

Today I'm remembering this piece I wrote in 2013 about adressing this very issue--parents who provide alcohol for their teens' parties or who know that alcohol on site but turn a blind eye to its presence.

Do you want to pay to be the cool parent?
Several years ago there was a tragedy right here in Howard County that involved underage drinking, driving, and death. It has weighed heavily on my mind ever since. A $2,500.00 fine is nothing compared to the burden that will be felt forever by the adults who must have somehow enabled the use of alcohol that evening

Columbia Patch editor at the time, Lisa Rossi, followed up with "Would You Buy Alcohol For Your Teen?"

“Generally, parents are not at home when these parties go on, but on occasion we may learn that parents provided alcohol or had knowledge that alcohol was being consumed at their home,” said Howard County police spokeswoman Mary Phelan. “We know that some parents may condone the behavior as long as they don't leave the house, but we feel this is not the right thing to do and sends the wrong message to teens.”

One Howard County parent, Nancy Dankos, brought a civil suit against parents who provided alcohol to teens at a party. Her son Steven died in an alcohol-related car crash on his way home. His tragic death has weighed heavily on my mind ever since. In fact, it was the inspiration for my piece in 2013.
Mrs. Dankos won her suit.

Timothy F. Maloney, Dankos’ attorney, called the high court’s decision a landmark.
“There is a class of parents called ‘cool parents’ and this decision should discourage the ‘cool parents’ who don’t understand the harm of providing alcohol to teenagers,” Maloney told The Daily Record in Baltimore.

Liability in a civil case can result in the award of monetary damages. Conviction under the new law can mean imprisonment of up to one year. The value of either, in my opinion, will not be if they can be successfully implemented, but rather if they provide a deterrent to the behavior in question. Adults should not be facilitating underage drinking. Period.

Oh, not all underage drinking results in death, you might say. Quite true. Sometimes it's just a bad hangover. And sometimes it results in sexual assault. What about that vile, racist video was made and posted publicly by Mount Hebron teens? "He was just drunk," apologists quipped.

Indeed. The teens were having a "party" on a weeknight, I've heard.

Recently a parent solicited advice in a local online forum about hosting a large party for her high school student. Most of the responses tried to steer her to a smaller event. Some responses were snarky, bordering on rude. One response caught my eye:

Please refer to the new Maryland law that parents can be charged for hosting parties if  someone is injured during or after the party. I am not insinuating that you would let them have alcohol but why have the risk?  

Don't be the cool parent. Other parents are counting on you to do the right thing.

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