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posted: 7/5/2013 5:00 PM

Misguided parents should just say 'no'

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  • Martin Dolan

    Martin Dolan

By Martin Dolan

Summer means lots of things -- baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and, unfortunately, underage drinking.

With graduation parties, backyard barbecues and three months of homework-free evenings and later curfews, opportunities for trouble abound for our teenage children. But parents need to mind their own behavior as well.

Underage drinking is a serious problem that becomes more difficult when parents allow for it by providing alcohol or hosting parties where underage drinking occurs, even if that just means looking the other way.

Under Illinois law, parents who supply or knowingly allow minors to drink or use illegal drugs in their homes can face felony charges if the drinking leads to injury or death. Meanwhile, more and more Illinois municipalities, including Chicago, have adopted "social host" laws aimed at penalizing and fining adults who allow minors to drink alcohol.

These laws became more prevalent following the 2006 drunken driving deaths of two teens who consumed alcohol at the home of a Deerfield couple that hosted a party for high schoolers in the landmark case of Bell vs. Hutsell.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the parents were not civilly liable or responsible for the drunken driving death of a teen who illegally consumed alcohol at their home because the couple did not "voluntarily undertake" the duty to prevent underage drinking or possession of alcohol.

While the court's ruling in that case makes it more difficult in certain situations to argue that parents are responsible for underage drinking in their homes, it's worth remembering that they were both found guilty in criminal court and the husband was sentenced to two weeks in jail. In addition, there are always potential insurance risks regarding your home.

The lessons of this case are important for parents of recent grads and college students returning home for the summer, who believe they're making a better choice by allowing their children and friends to drink under their supervision as opposed to forcing them to drink in secret on their own.

A child returning from college is still underage until he or she turns 21, and parents should understand the consequences -- beyond those in the law -- of providing kids with alcohol.

What really mattered most from the Deerfield case wasn't whether or not the state Supreme Court would expand liability law. It was that two young people died unnecessarily in an accident that could have been prevented.

Parents must consider the possible outcomes of underage drinking before supplying alcohol to minors or turning a blind eye as alcohol is served at a party. The results have played out too many times for responsible parents to believe that they are providing a truly safe place for drinking when they open up their home.

And when things go wrong, the impact of the tragedy is felt by families and the communities for years. Deerfield and too many towns across the state can attest to this.

Parents need to set an example for their children and friends when it comes to the responsible use of alcohol. It's been said by many before that "parents who host lose the most," but when parents enable underage drinking, we all lose.

• Martin Dolan is the owner of Dolan Law PC in Chicago. He resides in Clarendon Hills.

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