HEALTH

Parents held responsible for underage drinking

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Stephen Wallace, a senior adviser at Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, which used to be called Students Against Drunk Driving, said that with an increased awareness of the dangers of underage drinking, law enforcement authorities are increasingly relying on social host liability laws to go after parents.

While he acknowledged that teens are adept at finding ways to drink on the sly, he said he is all for anything that gets at the problem of underage drinking. He said he finds it troubling that the Burnetts said they saw no alcohol consumed at their party.

"Parents need to say to kids, `You shouldn't be drinking at all and you certainly can't do it here because we can be put in jail,'" Wallace said.

According to SADD research co-sponsored by the insurance company Liberty Mutual, more teens are saying that their parents allow them to go to parties where alcohol is being served - 41 percent in 2011, compared with 36 percent two years ago. Also, 57 percent of high school students whose parents allow them to drink at home said they prefer to drink elsewhere with their friends, Wallace said.

At some parties, the parents themselves supply the booze. In other cases, the kids bring it, sometimes with the hosts' knowledge.

"Some parents feel helpless," said David Singer of Demarest, N.J., who has 17-year-old twin daughters and a 20-year-old son in college. "Some parents feel they need to look the other way in order to help their kids fit in with the cool crowd. And some parents believe, `It's better under my roof than who-knows-where.'"

Like Burnett, Singer said he doesn't condone drinking by his underage kids under any circumstances. And yet he found a whiskey bottle in the yard after a party thrown by his son.

Burnett acknowledged he made a mistake but said he doesn't believe police crackdowns like the one at his house do much good.

"All of this is probably going to go underground and result in a more dangerous situation for kids," he told the online news network Patch. "I really don't think it's up to the police to help me parent."

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