Alcohol at Teen Parties: Where Is the Line of Responsibility for Parents?

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Anyone catch the Today Show yesterday? Matt Lauer interviewed a couple from my neck of the woods: a Stanford professor, Bill Burnett, and his wife, Carol. The Burnetts agreed to host a party for their 17-year-old son and his friends to celebrate a football win, under the condition that no alcohol be present. The Burnetts were home when the teens arrived and brought them snacks, but allowed the teens some privacy (kids were in the basement, parents upstairs).

One tequila, two tequila, three tequilaAt 11 pm police arrived, responding to an anonymous complaint that there was alcohol at the party. Although the Burnetts assured the police that no one had brought booze, the officers found that some had been snuck in. Professor Burnett was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to the police station where he was charged with 44 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor: one count for each teen present in their home.

Now, I understand the law and that technically adults are responsible if there is any alcohol, whether or not they knew about it. But 44 counts? Really? That just seems over the top to me.

My parents hosted a party or two for me in high school (though not quite as large as the Burnetts’) and I certainly attended after-game parties that were about size of their party. After-game parties were commonplace where I grew up, so I disagree with the assertion from some that the parents should have anticipated problems with a party of that size.

My children are still young, but I’m already planning for the teen years. I want my boys and their friends to hang out at our house, because it’s an easy way to get to know their friends and have an idea of what is going on in my children’s lives. I can totally see myself agreeing to host parties, under those same rules that the Burnetts set. If everything the couple has said is true, I believe they put in all the safeguards that were reasonable. It’s unnerving to me that parents trying to do the right thing could be so severely punished, when so many parents actually purchase the alcohol for their kids with no immediate consequence.

The question then is: how far can we expect parents to go to keep alcohol out of their homes? Is it reasonable to penalize them for concealed booze? What do you think? Would this story deter you from hosting a party for your teen?

Photo Credit: kittykaht.


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