Let’s Stop Enabling Teen Alcohol Use

December 4, 2005

Andrea Neal column for Nov. 12, 2003
710 words

Andrea NealINDIANAPOLIS — Fellow parents of Indiana teen-agers: We need to talk.

We all know that the tragedy that occurred in Morgan County could have happened anywhere. We all realize that the Mooresville football player killed in a crash after drinking could just as easily have been one of our kids, from our school, our street, our neighborhood.

If we are to learn anything from the death of Steve Terrell, it is that adults must stop enabling risky behavior.

Terrell died just hours after his team¹s Oct. 31 sectional win against Bloomington North High School. Hours after someone else¹s parent made a choice to condone drinking by high school students gathered in his home.

Mike Dorsett, father of two Mooresville students, faces one felony count of maintaining a place to unlawfully furnish alcohol to a minor and two misdemeanor charges of furnishing alcohol and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

According to police, as many as 30 students were partying in Dorsett¹s home after the football game on Halloween Night. Dorsett, a Perry Township firefighter, reportedly told those who were drinking they had to stay over.

That didn¹t stop Terrell from getting in his car and heading down winding Mann Road after 3 o"clock on the morning of Nov. 1. By that time, Dorsett had gone to bed and other students concerned about Terrell¹s condition were helpless to stop the linebacker.

Before throwing too many stones at Dorsett, all parents need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. It¹s a rare weekend that goes by when we don¹t hear stories of high school parties where alcohol was served with the knowledge, if not consent, of adults. We know this is true whether one¹s child attends a public school, or the most elite private school, whether one lives in rural or urban areas of Indiana.

"Many parents think that they are able to control the dangerous aspects of drinking when they are providing the alcohol and allowing it to be consumed under their supervision," says Lisa Hutcheson, project director of the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking.

"This, unfortunately, is not true. Studies indicate that kids who are allowed to drink at home are more likely to drink and drive and/or ride with a driver who has been drinking."

In a coalition survey of 18 to 20-year-olds in Indiana, more than two-thirds of those who drank said they obtained alcohol from adults.

Although educational programs are worth doing, Hutcheson says the most effective strategies for combating underage drinking require changing public policy to make alcohol less accessible.

She points to a beer keg tracking law passed by the 2003 legislature, which took effect July 1. The law requires retailers to record contact information for people who purchase kegs, a main source of alcohol at teen-age parties. If police confiscate a keg, the buyer can be identified and arrested for supplying alcohol to minors. "Anecdotally at least we are hearing that adults who would usually purchase kegs for minors are not doing so now because the kegs would be traced back to them and they would be held liable," Hutcheson reports.

In the 2004 legislature, the coalition will lobby for two additional changes in state law: mandatory training for bartenders and wait staff who serve alcohol and an increase in the alcoholic beverage tax, "which studies show will reduce underage consumption," Hutcheson says.

Citing a favorite slogan, Hutcheson says, "Holding young people solely responsible for underage drinking is like holding fish responsible for dying in a polluted stream. Young people do not manufacture or market alcohol and, though they should be held responsible for their decision to drink, if we do not control the access and availability we are not being effective."

Speaking as a parent, I¹d support almost any bill that would make it harder for young people to get alcohol. But I know there¹s no law that can force adults to be responsible.

So parents, let¹s make a deal. Promise not to allow alcohol at parties my child may attend at your home and I¹ll promise the same to you. We¹re all in this together and if we band together, just maybe we can protect more of our children from themselves.

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Andrea Neal, former editorial page editor at the Indianapolis Star, is an adjunct scholar and columnist for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.


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