Graduation milestone no excuse for teen drinking

Graduation is a rite of passage, but underage drinking is not. Many parents are looking forward to watching their children cross the stage and enter a new phase in their life as a young adult.

I suggest this important rite of passage include parents setting the expectation that drinking alcohol before age 21 is against family rules as well as the law.

I would like to remind parents who are tempted to permit the use of alcohol by their graduate and friends, that it can subject them to criminal and/or civil action for illegally providing alcohol to minors.

According to Georgia law, parents cannot give alcohol to their teen’s friends who are under age 21, under any circumstances.

However, Georgia law does provide for an often misunderstood parental exception, which does provide for parents to allow their own child to consume alcohol only under their direct supervision and in their own home.

Should a child drink to intoxication, under these parental exceptions, and cause harm to another after leaving their home, parents can be held liable under case law created in 1985, which allows courts to settle lawsuits against adults who serve alcohol negligently.

I would like to remind parents that the greatest deterrent to underage and youth binge drinking are parental expectations. In addition to knowing the legal liability, parents should know the research indicating that parents who do not allow drinking before the age of 21 and set consequences for such behavior have kids who are less likely to drink, less likely to binge when they do start drinking and less likely to have a problem with alcohol as an adult.

Current trends in underage drinking are a rising concern because we are losing ground, according to the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, the longest-running national research study of parent and teen behaviors and attitudes about drug and alcohol use in the United States. The recently released PATS study found that “new data underscore alarming patterns in early adolescent alcohol use and found that teens view drinking alcohol, even heavy drinking, as less risky than using other substances.”

● Of those teens who reported alcohol use, a majority (62 percent) said they had their first full alcoholic drink by age 15, not including sipping or tasting alcohol.

● Almost half of teens (45 percent) reported they do not see a “great risk” in heavy daily drinking.

The PATS study also found that parents feel unprepared to respond to underage drinking by their children:

● Almost a third of parents (28 percent) feel there is very little parents can do to prevent their kids from trying alcohol.

● One in three teens (32 percent) think their parents would be OK if they drank beer once in a while.

● Yet only one in 10 parents agree with teens drinking beer at a party.

Rites of passage are important and should be opportunities that contribute to personal growth, not dangerous to a child’s future. It is often difficult to set age appropriate boundaries for our children, but alas that is a parent’s responsibility. Help is available. Graduation provides parents with another opportunity to communicate family rules about alcohol.

To find several helpful tips for parents and to help everyone enjoy safe and happy graduation celebrations, visit and check out resources for parents online. Plus, view a 6-minute video about preventing underage drinking parties posted at cobbat.org/safehomes.

Pat Guiliani is a board member of the Cobb Alcohol Taskforce and Georgia PTA.