If you are hosting a party at your home, you likely think you’ve got your bases covered and nothing will happen under your watchful eye. You know what to expect; you’re aware of countless families who have hosted successful Grad Night parties and, sure, you’ve watched the news and know that “things happen,” but you’ve prepared for that. The dangers are well-known. Alcohol is, of course, a no-no, and as a parent you’ve probably had this conversation with your teen, explained the laws and the dangers of alcohol consumption, and expounded on the serious risks of drinking and driving.
So now, the plans have been made, the expectations set, and the invitations sent – but what if something happens? Are you willing to take that risk? Are you sure you fully understand the risk? Unfortunately, we know that teens can view this special night as one where the rules don’t apply, so the odds are fairly significant that someone will try to bring alcohol in and you may miss it.
“Here’s the scenario. Your daughter is graduating from high school and you throw her a huge backyard bash to celebrate the occasion. You hire a caterer, find a DJ, and hit Costco for cases of beer (for you and the other adults attending) and soda (for her). The attendees are an eclectic mix of family, your friends and co-workers, and your daughter’s friends. You’ve warned your daughter that there will be no underage drinking at this party and she agrees to spread the word. Your daughter and her friends have never given you an ounce of worry, so you trust them completely. Therefore, you are shocked to learn the next day that a few of her friends smuggled some of the beer into the garage and proceeded to get drunk under your roof. They then got in a car” and ended up in a fender-bender. “Shock turns to confusion later on when you are sued for negligence by the parents of the kids in the car. You call a lawyer and self-righteously exclaim 'We’re not liable! We told those kids they were not allowed to drink in our home!' Guess again.”
The statistics are staggering: “Each year, automobile accidents take the lives of nearly 3,000 teens in the 16-to-19 age group, and a quarter of a million more are sent to hospital emergency rooms with serious injuries. 'Death by car' is the No. 1 mortality risk for adolescents, and alcohol consumption is implicated in about 33 percent of these fatal accidents.” And even more sobering are these statistics:
- “Also according to the NHTSA, one in three children under age 21 who died in alcohol-related accidents died during prom and graduation season.
- An American Medical Association study reported that 10% of parents believed it was appropriate and safe for underage teens to attend both prom and graduation parties where alcohol is served, if a parent is present.”
It is heartbreaking to realize these deaths and injuries are unnecessary and preventable.
“…many parents don’t understand the tough laws and liabilities that apply when anyone under age 21 drinks alcohol or uses drugs in their homes. Arrests…jail time…expensive legal costs and fines…catastrophic lawsuits that can cost you your home and virtually everything else you own…even the loss of your homeowner’s insurance…
These are all risks of under-age drinking and illegal drug use in your home. And guess what? You will be exposed to all of these terrible risks even if you’re not home and you don’t know what’s going on. If underage drinking or illegal drug use takes place in your home, you’re responsible for everything that happens as a result — whether you know about it or not.”
Of course, the laws vary in each state and not all states have the “social host liability” law. Washington State Law, RCW 66.44.270, states, “It is unlawful for any person to sell, give, or otherwise supply liquor to any person under the age of twenty-one years or permit any person under that age to consume liquor on his or her premises or on any premises under his or her control.” The penalties include a fine of up to $5,000 and one year in jail. In addition to having this statutory obligation, a social host owes a “duty of reasonable care” to a minor to whom the host furnishes alcohol. This means the host may be held liable if the minor is injured in any way. However, in Washington, a social host is not liable for merely permitting a minor to consume, on the host’s premises, alcohol that the host did not furnish.
So, how can you protect yourself? There are a number of options, some of which will require a different perspective and adjusted expectations, but remember this is not only about potentially saving lives but maybe even saving you enormous heartache, regret and ruin.
- “Don’t buy alcohol for parties when minors will be attending. Eliminate the alcohol and the problem goes away. However, be aware that this does not prevent others from bringing alcohol into your home. It also may make for a very boring affair. It’s much more fun to see Uncle Hector dancing in the conga line than discussing the price of gas. A solution would be to mandate that all car keys get handed in upon arrival or that all kids sleepover in the family room.
- Stop thinking of your children and their friends as either 'good' kids or 'bad' kids. Good kids drink too! Most kids experiment with alcohol and drugs, no matter what their background, intelligence or level of responsibility. This, in and of itself, does not make them 'bad'. It makes them 'kids!' Allowing for the possibility early on will save a lot of heartache later on.
- Buy the most liability insurance you can afford. If you have assets, it is essential to have adequate automobile, homeowner, and umbrella coverage.
- Have your party in a banquet hall! If you have the means, forego the backyard barbeque and put the liability on someone else. Because they are subject to the more severe 'dram shop' laws, owners of banquet facilities are fully aware of the dangers of serving alcohol to minors or those who are already intoxicated. They train their bartenders and security people to be on the lookout for teens trying to drink on the premises. Although you will pay for the privilege, shifting the liability to someone else is a great idea.”
“Many communities across the country are implementing local social host ordinances to send a clear message that parents and other property owners need to be proactive in preventing minors from drinking alcohol on their property. These ordinances allow those who control the property to be cited without having to prove that they provided or 'allowed' the drinking to occur.
Local ordinances can be tailored to the needs of the community, and, with support from local government, law enforcement, and individuals, can help to change the social norms in the community that condone underage drinking as a 'rite of passage.'
The Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking has produced a guide to provide communities with more information about social host ordinances as they consider whether a social host ordinance is right for their community. A link to the guide is provided here.”
There are a number of excellent resources and tools to help guide parents through these decisions, inform them and provide further options. Take some time to go through these links and learn about the issues related to Social Hosting as well as what other options are out there.
 Unity Chemical Dependency Parent Resources, 2007