Underage Drinking & the Law

What parents need to know now about the new Social Host Laws

What to do if you find teens drinking in your home

Uh oh. You come home unexpectedly from another holiday party and find dozens of teens staggering and vomiting in the TV room.

Or maybe you wake up because the bass thrum from the basement stereo is making your headboard vibrate. You discover the small sleepover for three you approved has become a pajama party for twelve girls and a pitcher of Cosmos.

What do you do then?

The police will tell you that your first call should be to them. Your child will tell you that you should leave. Your pastor will tell you that you must minister to the sick and ensure that all of the guests are safe from harm. Your defense attorney will say to put him on speed dial.

Legality. Morality. Practicality. Choose just one path because that’s all you’ll have time to do before the situation worsens. Protecting your family, yourself and all the minors simultaneously may not be possible, the way many local Social Host Ordinances and civil liability laws are written.

Crisis managers talk about the importance of triage; finding inebriated teens in your home is a crisis. So, here are some triage steps to try, if you discover your home being used by minors as a neighborhood bar.

Be stealthy. Don’t come in yelling, or even announcing your presence. You have mere seconds to assess the situation. Remember, your goal is not just to stop the drinking; it’s to ensure that things aren’t worsened by your presence. When parents or police charge in, kids start running. That often leads to terrible accidents.

How many are there? When the numbers are overwhelming, you need to call the police. A mom in Westchester County, New York was knocked down by a football player when she tried to make him stop drinking. A former principal in Spokane, Washington was punched and killed by a high school student when he tried to break up a party at an absent neighbor’s home. Your kid will be furious with you. Parents of children who get cited for drinking will ostracize you. You may live to regret it, but the point is you’ll live and so will all of the unwanted guests.

Does anyone look asleep or ill? Every parent should know the signs of alcohol poisoning. If not, read this. When in doubt, call 911. If you can’t wake them, call 911.

Are they drinking or drunk? Kids who are drinking, will stop when you ask them to. Kids who are drunk, will ignore you or argue with you. If they stop, you then have the luxury of time to assess the situation and determine next steps. If they argue with you, you give them two choices: put down the alcohol or you’re calling the police. In either case, your minimum responsibility under many Social Host Laws is to contact their parents or guardians.

Did they drive or walk over? Don’t bother asking the unwanted party guests for their car keys. They may lie or have a second set. To ensure the teens’ safety and to protect yourself against civil liability, forget the keys; you have to disable the cars. Many sites give advice about pulling fuses but you can’t open a car’s hood without the keys. Instead, grab a can of spray paint and cover the windshield thickly with paint.  It doesn’t damage the windshield (but avoid spraying the bodywork), it can’t be removed with window washer fluid, and even a drunk won’t try to drive blind. It takes time to scrape off the paint. At the very least, it buys you time. Having to clean it the next morning makes a great natural consequence for the would-be DUI driver.

We’re not suggesting this is an easy scenario for anyone to handle. However, with a few deep breaths, a respect for the precarious balancing act that is parenting teens, and a bit of luck, you, your “guests” and your TV room will all survive.

5 comments on “What to do if you find teens drinking in your home

  1. chris
    January 11, 2013

    History shows us that bad laws are not defeated by legal
    means alone. We didn’t get rid of Prohibition (or slavery for that
    matter) by people merely sitting down and writing their
    Congressfolk. They subverted the law and often paid a price. Before
    women could legally terminate a pregnancy there was an underground
    network of abortionists who helped “girls in trouble”. And before
    homosexuals could acknowledge their sexuality publicly, there were
    clandestine, illegal bars and clubs where they could. Don’t start
    me on how many laws the Founding Fathers broke. there’s a tradition
    of civil disobedience that is not open and legal, but necessary. Of
    course, all the examples I cite above also had people going through
    legal and open channels to change things. That’s where we need
    work. the Amythest Initiative was a great start and UD&tL
    is also very worthwhile. So, you arrive home and find a party going
    on. Does an actual court of law really expect you and your spouse
    to detain a groups of individuals who not only outnumber you, but
    most likely are also stronger and faster? And once they’re detained
    you’re supposed to obtain actual names (not “Dick Hertz” or
    “Michael Hunt”, etc) and phone numbers so you can devote several
    hours to parental notification? (Is leaving a voice mail considered
    sufficient?). And if they manage to escape, how far do you go to
    get your own kid to squeal? Can you beat it out of him/her? Can you
    employ water boarding or other “enhanced interrogation” techniques
    sanctioned by the government? And are you really expected to call
    the police on your own son or daughter’s party? You can’t be
    compelled to testify against your spouse, so how can you be
    required to call the police on your own child? The only sure way to
    “remove any chance teens will drink in their home” would be to
    install surveillance cameras in every corner and chain the kids up
    in cages. Or else never let their offspring out of their sight.
    Don’t the lawmakers realize that? Has anyone pointed it
    out?

  2. chris
    January 7, 2013

    Sorry for the slow reply. My problem with this article is
    that it casts teens as the enemy, when in fact parents should be in
    their corner. This should begin with parents explaining just how
    much trouble they can get into if they don’t appear to be
    fulfilling their designated role as agents of the state.
    Symapthetic parents can agree to be out until the festivities end
    and the kids can agree that everyone must leave within a reasonable
    time after the folks come home. I also think that portraying
    assault and murder as something likely to happen is alarmist. As
    anyone who watches the evening news knows, people are assaulted and
    murdered for a host of trivial reasons every day. If the physical
    safety of parents is a concern, I can’t imagine that trashing
    someone’s car is going to make that individual want to hurt you
    less. I’m also curious as to how the intervening parents are
    supposed to contact parents and guardians of guests they don’t
    know. Are they supposed to start taking names and phone numbers and
    expect honest repsonses? Or should they demand to see ID? Or are
    they supposed to lean on their own kids for a list of attendees?
    Drunk driving should be discouraged for any age group. If that
    message is part of a general prohibition on drinking, though, it’s
    going to be ignored as more killjoy puritanism. I read of one
    father who collected all the keys and made kids sleep over. The
    authorities still charged him, but a jury didn’t convict him
    becasue he’d acted responsibly. The anti-drinking people went nuts.
    In any scenario, it’s likely that the parents, police officers,
    prosecutors, judges and even the politicians that sponsor and vote
    for these laws themselves drank “underage”. It’s normal. Now we
    have this Orwellian situation in which parents are supposed to blow
    the whistle on the current younger generation for doing exactly
    what they used to do. I wonder what parents are supposed to tell
    their kids about their own activities as teenagers. Should they
    lie? Or are they to downplay their own excesses and express
    insincere remorse? It took years for America to come to terms with
    teenage sexual activity and there are sectors of US society that
    still think just forbidding sexuality will produce chastity. But
    enlightened people realize that the youth will do what they want
    regardless of official policy and the best anyone can do is accept
    that and take pragmetic steps to minimize harm. The same is true
    with alcohol.

    • HM Epstein
      January 7, 2013

      Chris, thank you for your comments. I won’t address the ones that recommend ways to subvert the law. However, I do have a good post that addresses some of your concerns that I recommend, entitled: “Prevent Social Hosting: Four steps to enlist your kids” that can be found at https://socialhostlaw.wordpress.com/for-parents/howtoenlistyourkids/

      However, many of the questions you ask are at the crux of the matter. You asked, “Are they supposed to start taking names and phone numbers and expect honest repsonses? Or should they demand to see ID? Or are they supposed to lean on their own kids for a list of attendees?”

      The proponents of these laws, quite frankly, do expect parents to do all those things and more to avoid triggering liability under the law. The laws are written in such a way that being a good parent, as defined by parenting experts, is negligent parenting under the Social Host law. Parenting experts want parents to start trusting their children more as they age and give them more responsibility and leeway. That’s an important element in their healthy development.

      Ultimately, what happens is that parents concerned about their liability cancel all parties and therefore remove any chance that teens will drink In their home. Which, of course, means some teens will drink – and drink to excess – in cars, parking lots, parks and in empty homes.

      It seems that the laws of unintended consequences remain in play.

  3. HM Epstein
    December 18, 2012

    Chris, as you know, we’ve learned most Social Host laws create more problems than they resolve. However, they are the law in so many communities, that parents need a handbook on how to deal with the situation when they encounter it. The advice from experts is contradictory. We’re just trying to provide a logical checklist of options to keep everyone safe. No, you don’t call the police on your own kids. You call them if your underage guests are too drunk to stop drinking when requested or if they try to leave. We’ve had parents knocked down by drunk kids and one adult murdered when he tried to break up a party. Not only can you save a life or more from drunk driving, you can save yourself the years of defending yourself from the multi-million dollar lawsuit by the grieving parents. And, yes, kids do wait until the parents are out of town or just out to dinner or drink secretly in the dark of parking lots, parks and golf courses. That’s what these laws have wrought.

  4. chris
    December 18, 2012

    This is a prima facie example of the hysteria surrounding
    this issue. You’re really supposed to call the police on your own
    kids and vandalize cars? “The point is you’ll live…” I went to many, many house parties as a teen and never once considered myself in a life-threatening scenario, nor did anyone else. Maybe it’s these stupid laws that inspire a stampede once some idiot threatens to call the cops. What would be so horrible about telling them to keep the noise down and be responsible? And maybe stick close by to make sure that nothing gets out of hand? That would be the responsible thing to do, but I assume in today’s ridiculous climate, it makes you a criminal. At any rate, smart kids will simply wait till the ‘rents are out of town or hang out in the woods or other remote places where there’s no supervision whatsoever and that’s much safer, isn’t it?

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