Social Hosting: Warning to parents who host drinking parties

There are consequences for parents who host underage drinking parties.

There are consequences for parents who host underage drinking parties.

Weston High School seniors graduate on Tuesday and there is often a propensity for celebration after completing a major life milestone. Unfortunately, many teens want to include drugs and alcohol in those celebrations.

While underage drinking can have serious health and legal consequences for teenagers, there can be similarly harsh punishments for parents who allow drinking at their house, even if they don’t know it’s happening.

“Parents need to be present,” said School Resource Officer (SRO) Joe Mogollon. “If your kid is having a party or even just a few people over you should chaperone it. Don’t be in a different part of the house.”

Effective in 2012, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a “social hosting” law (CGS 30-89a) that prohibits providing and/or serving alcohol to a young person who is under the minimum drinking age of 21.

According to Mogollon, this law prohibits homeowners “from knowingly, or recklessly not knowing, that minors are possessing alcohol in their home.”

Adults are in violation of the social hosting law if they do not make a “reasonable effort” to break up a party and “halt possession of alcohol.”

The crime of social hosting and failure to halt possession is a Class A misdemeanor in Connecticut, punishable by up to one year in jail, fines and probation.

According to Mogollon, the more serious charge parents can face with is Providing Alcohol to Minors (CGS 30-86) which is a Class E felony.

If police believe a Connecticut parent has purchased alcohol for a minor, then they can be arrested in Connecticut for this felony charge. This can lead to thousands of dollars in fines and at least 18 months in jail.

“Underage drinking is so prevalent in this day and age,” said Mogollon. “A party can be broadcast on social media and kids from all over the region can be there in an hour. It’s really important to monitor who is coming in and out.”

Mogollon said he has been tackling underage drinking issues during his first year as the SRO.

“I have done different classes in different grades about the dangers of underage drinking. I’m working to make sure students understand the ramifications of drinking before they’re 21,” he said. “Young people don’t know how alcohol will affect their body and they end up consuming way too much alcohol; it’s a serious problem all over.”

In addition to safety concerns, Mogollon said teenagers are more likely to make “bad decisions” when they’re drinking.

“When you’re drunk you are not making the same decisions you are making when you’re sober,” said Mogollon. “Or you might decide that you are okay to get in a car and drive, which can lead to a tragic situation.”

Wrong message

Mogollon says parents may host a party with underage drinking in their home because they feel it provides a safe environment.

“You’re sending the wrong message if you allow underage drinking,” he said. “You are clearly stating that it is okay to break the law and undermine authority and responsibility.”

Denique Weidema-Lewis, prevention director of Westport-based nonprofit Positive Directions, said her organization is dedicated to ensuring parents do not allow parties where kids drink underage.

“Our biggest message is to ensure that all parties are supervised and it isn’t a situation where kids are downstairs and left to their own devices,” she said. “It’s important to have an uncomfortable conversation with your child about why underage drinking is bad.”

Weidema-Lewis said parents can take simple steps to ensure that kids aren’t drinking at their house.

“If you are having a party, it can be as simple as having a guest list and strictly adhering to it,” she said. “Do bag checks when kids walk in, make it so they cannot walk into your house with anything. Basic supervision is what keeps kids safe.”

When kids are going to another party, she suggests parents check in with the hosts to ensure the party has similar rules.

“It’s important to make sure young people know there are consequences to drinking underage,” she said. “It’s equally important that parents know that being a social host can have even larger ramifications.”

Matthew Brodacki, acting chief of the Weston Police department, said parents just need to be parents and not act as friends to their children.

“It’s better to have an awkward conversation with your kids than a tragedy,” said Brodacki.

Brodacki said he has heard stories of parents “not wanting to embarrass their children” by taking away alcohol when they find them drinking with their friends. “The best way to keep kids safe is doing exactly that,” he said.

Education

Weston High principal Lisa Deorio said she and middle school principal Dan Doak will serve as co-chairs of a newly formed Drug and Alcohol Task Force for Weston schools.

“We will be meeting in mid-June to start planning for work in the new school year,” said Deorio. “Helping our students make healthy choices and decisions is a top priority in this school district.”

The task force is made up of teachers, administrators and students and will report to an advisory committee that is made up of Board of Education members, parent representatives, Weston officials, community members and drug and alcohol experts.

Mogollon said the task force will help give him “better ideas” on how to enforce and police drug- and alcohol-related issues.

While Weston’s graduation night may reasonably be a hotbed for parties, the school’s parent teacher organization has worked hard to combat that.

“The PTO holds an annual event after graduation,” said Weston High PTO president Megan Couch. “Directly after graduation we take kids and sign them in, they get on a bus and we bring them to different events throughout the night.”

The events, secret to the students before the evening, are designed to be a fun way to spend time with friends immediately after they graduate.

“Students are breathalyzed as they get on the bus and then again at the events,” Couch said. “They are subject to random breathalyzer tests throughout the night, there is a zero tolerance policy with drugs and alcohol.”

While the PTO provides a night of safety for students, Mogollon repeatedly emphasized the importance of watching over kids and ensuring they aren’t drinking throughout the rest of the year.

“We are trying hard to teach these kids that underage drinking is wrong when they’re here in school,” he said. “We need parents to step up at home and teach the same lessons there.”

Mogollon said it’s “clear” why parents shouldn’t be hosting or allowing underage drinking parties.

“As a parent it just isn’t worth it,” said Mogollon. “It’s not only illegal, it’s irresponsible. It’s not something we should ever encourage.”

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