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Parents who host teen drinking parties: Not cool, not smart, but they do it anyway

Parents who host teen drinking parties: Not cool, not smart, but they do it anyway


Washington Post

By Petula Dvorak Columnist

November 12, 2015

“Dude. Your dad is so cool,” one teen might say to the other, sloshing beer out of his red Solo cup as a serious game of pong soaks the cherrywood table and Dad taps another keg.


“All hail Dad!” the crowd might roar, as Dad dances in his dad pants.


Is that the esteem parents who let their teens throw alcohol parties are hoping for? Being that cool parent?


Alan Goodwin, the principal of one of Maryland’s most affluent and high-performing high schools, has had enough of it.


“This must stop,” he declared in an emotional e-mail he sent last week to at least 2,000 parents at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.


Three kids dead in Montgomery County in a little more than a year, thousands of pledges signed by parents promising not to serve alcohol to kids, a former high school quarterback indicted this week in the drunken-driving deaths of his two friends, a dad facing fines for allegedly hosting the party where they got drunk. Yet still, Goodwin heard that not just one, but two parents hosted drinking parties over Halloween weekend.


“Parents, find other ways to bond with your child,” Goodwin urged. “Please.”


Maybe it’s not only about being the cool parent, though. What if it’s more like, “They’re going to do it anyways, so they might as well do it under my roof.”


Let’s call it helicopter partying.


“It’s a real thing that people grapple with, all the time: I know these kids are drinking. Am I better off having them in my home?” said Doug Gansler, the former Maryland attorney general whose unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign certainly wasn’t helped when he was photographed at a beach week party that, um, let’s say, skewed young.


“There’s a legal right answer, but there’s not a moral answer,” he told me.


The party in South Bethany, Del., was heavily chaperoned by other parents, who had a list of rules: beer only, no closed doors and no one drives away. Gansler wasn’t chaperoning or hosting the party. He was there for about 15 minutes looking for his son, who he insisted wasn’t drinking. But photos and videos posted on social media showed teens going wild.


Like a lot of parents, Gansler knows that in the real world, kids are going to go to parties and drink. Instead of hoping for the best, some moms and dads try to control that impulse-fueled, scary time of their kids’ lives and helicopter their way through that, too.


It’s how plenty of parents approach teens having sex. Better to give teens condoms or get them on birth control pills than wait them for them to ignore parental pleas to delay having sex.


But alcohol is very different than sex, because teens cannot legally drink.


“If they’re having one of those parties, they’re breaking the law,” Gansler said.


And Goodwin doesn’t buy the argument that parent-chaperoned drinking parties are safer.


“I’ve heard that rationale,” said the principal, who has really had it with the cool parents.


“They think about their own child and the safety of their own child,” he said. “But they don’t understand how hard it is to control the other children. Let’s pretend you’re the host parent and let’s pretend Johnny is really drunk. Are you going to call Johnny’s parents and tell them you’ve been giving Johnny alcohol all night and how he’s drunk?”


It’s not just the driving you have to worry about, Goodwin said. Sexual assault, alcohol poisoning. Someone falls off a deck.


This is the chaos you create when you throw an underage party, said J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer at Mothers Against Drunk Driving.


If the possibility of a dead kid, a sexual assault or an injury isn’t enough to deter parents, maybe the law can help. MADD advocates tougher fines for adults who provide alcohol to kids.


In the June deaths of two 18-year-olds who had just graduated from Wootton High School in Rockville, the dad who was allegedly home and joked about all the beer they had at the party — Kenneth Saltzman — is facing two citations at $2,500 each.


The parents of Alexander Murk, one of the kids killed after leaving Saltzman’s house that night, said they would like to see Maryland laws changed “so that they have real teeth and act as a real deterrent.”


What if Saltzman were fined for each of the 30 kids who were allegedly at the party? Would $75,000 in fines be scarier than $5,000? In Virginia, violators can be fined, but also can face jail time of up to 12 months.


The folks at MADD said that underage drinking is actually dropping. Fewer kids are drinking, which means alcohol education programs are working, Griffin said.


It’s their elders who are the issue.


“One of the things we say at MADD is that underage drinking is an adult problem,” Griffin said. “In order for kids to get alcohol, there’s an adult somewhere that messed up. Someone bought it for them, someone didn’t put it away, someone left it out in the open for kids.”


So, yeah. Parents, as usual, you are the problem.


Let them have a glass of wine at dinner with you (which is actually legal in some states) if you want to demystify alcohol.


Find another way to bond with them.


But letting them throw the rager? Nothing good comes of it.


Plus, they’re never, ever going to think you’re that cool.