Thursday, 10 March 2016

American Drinking Laws & The Risks for Parents

My friend Lu over at Family Affairs and other Matters, has put together a handy tip list for hosting children and teen parties. She has three kids, now all big, and apparently has thrown 59 parties in her time as a parent. It's worth a read.

It also prompted me to add a comment about the added risk for parents in the USA. As you may know, kids can't legally drink until they are 21 here. Not only can they not drink till 21, even when they are 21, if they let their friends have a swig, it constitutes supplying a minor with alcohol. I tell you, college is a bloody nightmare these days. They all seem to drink anyway, and every college seems to have a different way of handling it. It's rarely dealt with by the "real" police so a lot of them aren't prosecuted, but it doesn't mean it doesn't have an impact.

Some colleges give you a one-time pass so it doesn't count as a discipline matter and doesn't go on your record. Students are usually required to take some sort of alcohol-awareness course though, either on-line or bums in seats. Other colleges have the campus police haul the kid off to the local hospital where they have to sit and wait till they sober up. If the kid is really drunk, they might also be put on a drip to re-hydrate, resulting in (usually) a claim on the parent's health insurance and obviously, parents being thereby notified. A few colleges have a fairly strict approach and the student finds him or herself on a final notice; further infractions could lead to them being kicked out.

The people who could fare the worst though, are parents. Gone are the days where teens puking on your front lawn were a fairly regular occurrence. Many states now have "social hosting" laws, meaning that if under-age kids are found drinking in your house, you can be criminally prosecuted and/or sued by anyone whose child is endangered in any way. Oh yes.

And, depending on your state, that can apply when you have no idea your darling child has friends in the house 'cause you're not even in the same city! Even if you're at the party, provide booze for the grown-ups with strict instructions to all minors that they're not to touch it, should a teen drink it and then say, get into a car and injure someone else, you could well find yourself in deep doo-doo. The fact that you not only provided the alcohol, but "allowed" said minor to get into a car with alcohol in his or her system could also be negligence on your part.

Pity these poor parents in Maine, who had done everything they could to avoid underage drinking at their child's party, even going as far as asking local police to help screen guests. When it became obvious that there were lots of drunk kids anyway, the police got involved and the couple was indicted by a District Attorney who was pressing to have them serve jail time. Because the jury couldn't reach a verdict on this, the couple agreed to pay $17,000 in fines and restitution, write a letter of apology for the local newspaper and serve 100 hours of community service each. Apparently there was also very harsh criticism from local residents too. Yikes.

Hosting teen parties - a whole nuther matter in the USA.


  1. I could write about this for about an hour (or even longer), but if we're thinking about this from the expatriate perspective, I'd love to hear your take on this situation as an Englishwoman who's been transplanted into foreign soil. What do you think about this bizarre dichotomy in American culture where we scream 'freedom' and 'independence' but at the same time surround ourselves with a dizzying array of laws designed to limit that same freedom and independence? I'm thinking particularly of the many activities in the US that are strictly controlled and/or limited today because of the constant threat of litigation. I don't feel that nearly as much in the UK, although friends tell me it is on the upswing. It's almost as though we're somehow trying to legislate perfect safety by threatening everyone with a potential lawsuit.

    1. I quite often say that the idea of freedom in this country is misplaced. Sure, we have the Constitution and a lot more freedoms encoded, but the extent to which one group of people can limit the activities of another, (usually on religious grounds) is appalling.

  2. Suddenly getting umbrella insurance starts to make sense.

  3. I think a lot of this furor around underage drinking would have been allowed to pass if it were not for, as noted, a litigious society, but also the problems around binge drinking, which was rampant on campus when I was at university 40 years ago (never mind the pharmaceutical cornucopia available) and still is. It was something that often started in high school. I certainly saw it a lot. There didn't/doesn't seem to be any model for moderate drinking, say a beer or two on a night out. Kids back in the day and now often drink solely to get drunk. It is not a pretty picture. So the pendulum has swung far to the side of harsh penalties and a total ban where possible. I think it will swing back eventually. It always does.

    Mind you, when my brother's small town high school (American) football team won the state championship, my parents hosted a celebratory party for the team and their friends. There had to have been 75-100 teens there. Beer was allowed, my parents knowing full well that if the drinking didn't happen under their eye, it would happen somewhere less safe. The police (the station was a half block from our house) were put on notice about the party, and, other than the ritual puking on the lawn, there were no incidents. My other brother and I served the food and cleaned up the mess. We hauled 3 large bin bags of empty beer cans down to the dumpster behind the police station at 2:00 am. ;-) Ah, the Good Old Days.

    1. My husband remembers teens where he lived drinking in the park and the police would just slowly drive through to remind everyone they knew what was going on. Wouldn't happen now.

  4. Even with the more lax drinking laws in Wisconsin where you can let your under 21 child or spouse drink as long as you are present no problem, that college scenario would still be a nightmare.

    1. I think I can allow my own kids to have a drink in my house with dinner (or something) but certainly not anyone else's kids.

    2. I think I can allow my own kids to have a drink in my house with dinner (or something) but certainly not anyone else's kids.

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