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May 10, 2005, 7:40 A.M.

A Spring Lecture: With the approach of summer and with prom season in full swing, underage drinking and parties are once again topics of discussion and news coverage. It never ceases to amaze me how, despite the consequences and the known risks, parents and otherwise seemingly responsible adults still maintain that itís okay if their kids and their friends drink and party, as long as they donít drive.

It is illegal for a minor to drink, or even possess alcohol and there is no exception to this rule. It is illegal to procure, purchase, borrow or steal alcohol for a minor. In fact, it is illegal to give alcohol to a minor, even if that child is your own, and there are no exceptions to this rule.

Adults who give alcohol to minors are liable for stiff penalties, criminal prosecution and civil liability. Minors who are caught with alcohol (even if it is in their system) are likewise liable for criminal prosecution, loss of license and a loss of property. The consequences include possible ineligibility for certain college scholarships, loans or even college admission if there are criminal convictions for alcohol related offenses. All of this is before we talk about the number of alcohol-related fatalities in accidents of all types (not just automobile accidents). Despite all of these statistics, laws and consequences, the parties persist.

It does not surprise me that kids want to experiment with alcohol or drugs or other ways of demonstrating their independence from their parents or as a challenge to the rules that make them feel less grown up than they believe they are. It does not surprise me because these feelings are a natural part of the progress towards adulthood (which is the time when you get to bring down the rules on your kids!). It always surprises me, however, how many parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, neighbors, etc., facilitate underage drinking.

One of the reasons why this happens, I am told, is because some folks believe that the kids are better off if they are drinking at home because at home itís not such a ďbig dealĒ and they are more likely to drink more responsibly when theyíre out with friends. I donít buy it; tasting a beer with dad is nothing like kicking a few back with the rest of the football team. Perhaps drinking at home produces a more experienced drinker and Iím not sure thatís a good idea.

Sometimes I think itís more about the parents than the kids, sort of like parents at sporting events reliving their glory days through their children. Itís childish and immature to want to see a young kid hurting himself so that you can be his friend or favorite parent.

Iím not talking about the kind of alcohol consumption that occurs in many countries where alcohol is served with meals regardless of age (although this practice is illegal in this state). I canít really say whether a glass of wine or beer is better or worse than a liter of Pepsi, but partying at 16 or 17 is a vastly different circumstance because while the former may be arguably a responsible exposure to alcohol, drinking for drinkingís sake never is.

High school kids are like some Sunday morning pancakes, as my wife says, ďcooked on the outside, but not quite done on the inside.Ē It is up to the adults who truly care about them to help them grow and develop, and to live long enough to give these lectures to their own kids.

I hope that parents will talk to their kids about being responsible, and about the real long term consequences of not being responsible. I hope that you let them know that because they are human, they will make mistakes, but that if they do they will be in far less trouble for calling you for a ride than they will be for driving after drinking or for riding in a car with anyone who has. Part of growing up is dealing with the consequences of our actions. You are far better off living to see how much trouble you are in, than to take your chances with or as a drunk driver.


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