It’s prom season, and soon it will be graduation season as well—a time of celebration and milestones where adolescence and adulthood converge. With the merriment, however, comes the temptation to include adult beverages. And parents often fall victim to the bait, just like the teens they are obliged to protect.
Wisconsin families are at particular risk. Our state boasts the highest rate of underage drinking in the nation, with roughly half of all high school students having consumed alcohol and a third having gone on at least one binge. And in La Crosse, the most common violation of the law is underage drinking.
To keep your kids—and yourself—safe from legal consequences, not to mention the hassle and heartache of much worse things that can happen when minors consume alcohol, here are some important tips for parents and kids.
Know the rules. In Wisconsin, parents may provide alcohol to their own children but no other minors. That means if you’re hosting a party where alcohol is served to kids other than your own, you are violating the law. Even if you didn’t provide the alcohol, if you don’t take steps to stop it, you’re still liable.
Understand the penalties. Penalties in Wisconsin for providing alcohol to minors begin at $500 for first offenses and can reach as high as $10,000, a nine-month jail term and suspension of your license. Far worse, should a child be injured or killed as a result of drinking at your party, you could carry the emotional consequences for the rest of your life.
Avoid “open parties.” Have a guest list and stick to it. Don’t allow your child to send invitations via email, Facebook or another means where it can be disseminated to a large group of people. If you do invite a large number of guests, welcome other parents to help chaperone.
Don’t allow return guests. If guests leave the party, don’t allow them to return. They may have left to get alcohol.
Remove alcohol from the location. You may have a fine wine collection or beer in the fridge for yourself, but before party time, lock it up or remove it from the premises altogether.
Take precautions if you leave town. If you’re going out of town, have a responsible adult stay with your child, or ask one or more people to stop by frequently and randomly. It’s also a good idea to ask your local police department to keep an eye on things, and let your child know you’ve done so.
Be the nerdy parent. If your child is going to a party, call the other parents and find out what their plans are. Ask if they will be there the entire time and request they let you know if the kids leave to go someplace else. With your own child, set a strict curfew and require her to check in with you at that time. A face-to-face greeting when she comes home will cue you to whether she has been drinking.
Emphasize “don’t drink and drive.” Let your child know that your top priority is his health and well-being, and that he can call you at any time to come get him and drive him home safely. Emphasize that nothing is more important than not drinking and driving and not getting in a car with someone under the influence.
If you need convincing, note that underage drinking alters the production of important hormones, including estrogen, testosterone and human growth hormone, and disrupts brain development and functioning. More specifically, it impairs learning ability in youth who abuse alcohol. Further, underage drinking costs Wisconsin approximately $1.6 billion each year due to traffic crashes, property crime, injury and violence.
The national campaign Parents Who Host Lose the Most really says it all and says it best. When you consider the potential consequences, you must ask yourself: is it worth it?
Article by Cheryl Gill, Criminal Defense Lawyer, La Crosse WI. For more information on underage drinking laws in Wisconsin, contact Cheryl Gill at 608-784-5678.