I again teamed up with Oakland County’s 44th District Court Chief Judge Derek Meinecke, this time to take a closer look at underage drinking.
Proms and graduations are around the corner — time for photos, dressing up, and great memories. But did you know that proms are also the time when teen traffic deaths peak? Or that one-third of alcohol-related deaths in kids under age 21 occur during prom and graduation season?
Underage drinking: Let’s change our thinking
Many parents and kids think that underage drinking is almost a rite of passage. “Everybody does it, so it’s no big deal.” We may know that “Minor in Possession” charges blight records for years. We know that alcohol affects judgment and motor skills. We certainly know that driving under the influence can cause accidents, injury and even death. But alcohol affects a developing body and brain in different ways than in an adult, and this seemingly “normal” choice could set the stage for disaster.
If your child drinks before age 21, he or she is more likely to:
- develop substance abuse/addiction (age of starting to drink is highly correlated).
- carry out or be the victim of a physical or sexual assault.
- have poorer grades in school, have run-ins with the law, or use other drugs.
- engage in risky sexual activity, such as teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV (the AIDS virus).
- binge drink (more than five drinks on one occasion), which can lead to death.
As an adult, you are responsible
Judge Meinecke created a Parental Responsibility and Underage Drinking video. Whether it is a retail clerk, a parent, an older sibling, or the guy at the party store who agrees to “buy for” some kids, anyone supplying alcohol to a minor is breaking the law. You may think that hosting a party is safer, but enabling underage drinking can cost you fines of up to $1,000 (not including court costs and legal fees) and up to 60 days in jail, just for the first offense! If your party involves underage drinking, you may be found not to have exerted “reasonable parental control” even if you didn’t provide the alcohol! Furthermore, if a minor who drank at your house gets into an accident and dies, it’s a felony, carrying a $5,000 fine and up to 10 years in jail. And all of this pales in comparison to knowing you were any part of this tragedy. It’s just not worth it.
Even if no one is caught or harmed, it’s important to consider what precedent and expectation you’re setting for your kids. Maybe you made choices to drink before age 21, and maybe you were lucky enough to have escaped all the bad outcomes listed above. This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to roll the dice with your son or daughter’s future, or the lives of others they could harm while drunk.
Talk with your kids
Knowledge is power: the more we understand the consequences of promoting, condoning or ignoring underage drinking, the better we can prepare our children to make safe choices. Let’s have open, honest conversations, not bury our heads in the sand or use scare tactics and threats. Answer questions and share information, like this great resource: FAQs from Young People about Underage Drinking.
Enjoy and celebrate safely! Being informed and proactive about underage drinking may be the best graduation gift you can give your kids.
– Lori Warner Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital