By Joan Grayson Cohen, Esq., LCSW-C
Bill Burnett, parent and professor at Stanford University, and his wife thought they were doing all the right things when they recently allowed their teenage son to have a party at their home.
Put yourself in their position. You decide to allow your teen to host a party in your home, with the following understandings and assumptions:
- You have set the ground rules with your teen about no alcohol or drug use at the party, and you believe your teen will communicate this to his peers.
- You will be in the house the whole time, and although you don’t want to embarrass your child by actually attending the party, you will check in periodically.
- You believe that your child and his friends are safer at your home because you know you are not one of those parents who provide alcohol at teen parties.
- You assume your child will come to you if there are any problems.
- You are glad that your child is in your house and not at another place where you think she may drink, and you certainly don’t want her to drive or get in a car with someone who has been drinking.
Have you done the right thing? Did you think you would incur any legal action from your decision to host the party? Do you believe you have taken enough precautions?
If you were Bill and Cynthia Burnett, you would probably answer these questions in the following way:
However, on the night of the party, Mr. Burnett was arrested in his home and charged with 44 counts of contributing to a minor’s delinquency. He served one night in jail and faces a possible one-year sentence and/or a pricy fine. This occurred after neighbors called the police complaining that there was a rowdy party going on at the Burnetts’ home. When police arrived they found that some of the teens displayed signs that they were under the influence of alcohol.
After this incident was highlighted on the Today Show, more than 500 comments were posted on Facebook, expressing mixed feelings about the responsibility and actions of the Burnetts. Reactions ranged from: “Are parents doing enough?” to “Can parents do enough?” Some felt the Burnets should have anticipated a problem occurring when they had 44 teens in their home. One commenter thought that the Burnetts were fortunate that all that happened was that kids were caught with booze since he felt that you need multiple adults to monitor a party of that size. Others felt that the Burnetts did everything they could do and should not be held criminally responsible.
As you see, there is not one right answer. All of these varied comments got me thinking about the following questions and potential answers.
If parents choose to host a party at their home, do they need to be present at the party at all times to ensure that there will be no alcohol or drug use in their home?
Being present all the time may not be your teen’s first choice, but it ensures that you will detect problem issues. Maybe having a party for teens and their parents can accommodate both yours and your teen’s needs.
Should parents limit the numbers of teens who can attend? Limiting events to smaller groups does make the event more manageable and dissipates the larger group mentality of a wilder party.
Should parents be at the door when teens arrive to check all bags, coats, purses, etc. to ensure that the teens are not bringing inappropriate items into the party?
As a parent who owns that house and who is ultimately responsible for what transpires in the home, you have every right to make and enforce this request with your child and his or her friends.
Should the parents take the keys of the teens who are the drivers and return them only if the parents determine that those teens are safe to drive? Again, doesn’t a parent have a right to make this request to ensure the safety of the teens and those on the road?
Should parents make sure before the party that all alcohol in the home is put away and not accessible to the teens? This seems to be an easy and simple security measure.
Should parents tell the teens that if they leave the party they will not be able to come back? Do you want a teen leaving your home to drink or use drugs, only to return to your home under the influence?
Parents can be proactive by taking measures to ensure that drinking and other risky behavior does not happen in your home when they are present. Teens, by definition, will challenge boundaries, experiment with risky behavior, and not go against their peers because they don’t want to be ostracized. Knowing these realities, parents certainly can protect themselves and their teens by never providing alcohol or drugs to an underage teen. But as the Burnett family learned, if parents are not aware that teens are bringing alcohol or drugs into their home, this is still illegal and can be prosecuted under the law.
The Burnett incident prompts us to revisit this important issue. Parents who choose to have a teen party at their house can follow some of the suggestions listed above to ensure that there will not be drinking and/or drug use in their home. Parents can band together to ensure safer environments for their teens and themselves.
By Joan Grayson Cohen, Esq., LCSW-C, Senior Manager, Access Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
If you are interested in discussing these issues in more detail with other parents, please call Jewish Community Services at 410-466-9200. A new solution to this issue is to host a Safe Party at our Mitchell David Teen Center. Parents are not allowed at the Center, but our trained adult Teen Outreach staff will be there to supervise the teens. In the Teen Center, teens can hold dances, watch football games, shoot pool, play video games, play music and just hang. The teens will be engaged in fun and meaningful ways, and you will be meeting your responsibilities as a parent to provide a safe environment for your teens to gather. For more information on how to book the space, call Noah Aronin at 410-581-9388 or 443-722-7987. To learn more about our programs, visit www.jointeens.org. JOIN for Teens is a program of Jewish Community Services, an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
Questions about parenting? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on parenting click here or call 410-466-9200.