Teenage Parties & Booze – What’s A Parent’s Responsibility?

by | May 11, 2014


Many parents have been there: their teenage son or daughter asks have an after-prom party and promises it will be small and the kids will behave.

With the EGHS prom just days away and in the wake of two recent high-profile stories out of North Kingstown that involved East Greenwich teens, EG News decided to take a look at how parents should act when it comes to teens, parties and the possibility of alcohol or drug use.

There are different types of teenage parties. One type is where parents allow a party but prohibit alcohol and monitor the party closely. Another is more of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” variety, where parents allow the party and tacitly allow drinking – they don’t supply the alcohol but if it happens to arrive in backpacks and disappear into the basement, well, they never actually saw it. Those parents are often thinking that the kids going to drink somewhere, so they decide they’d rather know where Jane or Johnny are doing it and that they are safe.

Those parents are also violating Rhode Island’s social host law, which prohibits allowing drinking by those under age 21 at a person’s house.

In January, a mother in North Kingstown threw her daughter a 16-year-old birthday party which ballooned into a giant, alcohol and marijuana infused event where two teens ended up being taken to the hospital and the mother was arrested for, among other charges, violating the social host law. Most of the teens at the party were from East Greenwich because the daughter attends EGHS (her father lives in EG).

The social host charge against her was dismissed after she agreed to make a $5,000 donation to a nonprofit (the first nonprofit, MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, turned down the money; Amos House, which serves the homeless, accepted the donation). The mother, who was at home at the time of the party, said she did not know kids were drinking and many more kids showed up than had been anticipated.

On April 29, the 18-year-old son of that same woman was charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct after an incident at home where he allegedly beat up a friend. The friend and one other guest said they had been drinking Grey Goose vodka at the time of the fight, according to the police report. The mother was not at home not at the time of the beating.

Bob Houghtaling, drug and alcohol counselor for East Greenwich, said parents often don’t know what they are getting into when it comes to allowing their child to have a party at home.

“We’re all very familiar with parties that got completely out of control and that parents thought they were going to keep a lid on. On top of that, you send a mixed message that drinking is against the law, unless you do it in my house,” he said.

“You’re opening up Pandora’s Box.”

And, Houghtaling said, there’s a question of danger, even if the kids don’t get behind the wheel.

“What do you know about someone’s dosage, what they’re able to handle, alcohol wise?” he said. “What do you know about whether or not they’re on a prescription med and they’re creating a dangerous chemical reaction?”

Other things can happen too, he said, like maybe a fight or kids sneaking out of the house at 2 in the morning and deciding to drive somewhere.

The bottom line, said Houghtaling: “You’re taking on an enormous responsibility.”

Police Sgt. John Carter, the town’s juvenile officer, had some recommendations for parents.

“When kids gather, kids have means of procuring alcohol or things they shouldn’t have and the numbers [of guests] can increase quickly,” he said. “If you see anything out of the ordinary, you need to step in.”

He said some kids will arrive at the party with alcohol in their backpack. Others may have stowed alcohol in or nearby the house ahead of time.

Carter recommends parents get help chaperoning the event. And that parents make sure the parents of the other kids know where they are.

If, he said, you discover some kids are drinking, you need to find out who they are and contact their parents.

“You don’t want to send them on their way,” Carter said. “You don’t want to put them behind the wheel.”

In some cases, you might need to call the police.

“If you allow it, then you’re responsible,” he said. “If you are aware of it, you should take action.”

For many years, several years ago, Citizens Who Care threw a post-prom party to help take the pressure off parents. Initially, they were well attended, but when kids were told they would not be able to come and go as they pleased, they began to stay away, recalled Houghtaling.

Houghtaling recently interviewed Richard Morsilli, father of Todd Morsilli, who died in February 1983, after being struck by a drunk driver who was a student at East Greenwich High School. You can listen to that podcast here.

Here’s an article from last year featuring Richard and his wife, Carol.

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