Tis the Season

New Routines, New Opportunities for Underage Alcohol Use

The start of the school year is an exciting time! Students have the opportunity to try new activities, make new friends, and experience new social situations. However, these positive changes can also create conditions like social and academic pressures that leave young people especially vulnerable to dangerous alcohol use and abuse. Parents taking steps to prevent underage alcohol use and abuse is essential to promoting the safety of their children.

The majority of underage drinking takes place in social settings, such as at home and at parties. Even if parents are at home, underage drinking that occurs at parties can have many negative consequences, including violence and assaults, unplanned sexual activity, combination drug use, property damage and vandalism, and binge drinking and alcohol poisoning. Preventing underage social access to alcohol can help reduce these negative consequences.

Parents play a critical role in preventing underage drinking. If parents do not provide a space for underage drinking to occur, young people are significantly less likely to drink. Parents can help change attitudes and expectations that underage drinking is just a fact of life in their community by providing social activities that are alcohol-free and speaking with other parents about the consequences of underage drinking at parties, with or without supervision. Fostering an environment where underage drinking is not viewed as an inevitable rite of passage can help prevent many of the destructive consequences of underage social access to alcohol.

The beginning of the school year is fun and exciting. However, the changes in environment, friends, and school stressors can lead to unhealthy behavior. Parents should have a plan of action to help their kids stay out of trouble when it comes to underage drinking and alcohol abuse. When parents are undeniably clear with their children that are expected to obey the law and not drink underage, their children more often listen to them over their peers. Reducing youth access to alcohol at house parties and in other social situations can keep them safe and healthy – not just as kids, but well into adulthood.

Tis the Season

Hosting in the Home is Still Risky for Youth

By: Libby Banks

Recently, social host ordinances (or SHOs) have been receiving a lot of attention across the state of Texas. With the passage of SHOs in both El Paso and San Antonio, Texans Standing Tall wants to take the time to explain what social host ordinances are and how they help reduce underage social access to alcohol.

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among youth. Of the 45% of high schoolers who drink, 81% of underage drinkers say that they most often get alcohol from parties and friends. Some parents may allow underage drinking parties because they think it keeps their kids safe and prevents them from driving. However, limited or no supervision combined with heavy drinking creates an unsafe environment where problems beyond drinking and driving occur, including violence and assaults, binge drinking and alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, unplanned sexual activity, combination drug use, and property damage and vandalism.

Research  indicates that social host ordinances are a successful way to reduce underage drinking and the associated negative consequences. A social host is a person who provides space for underage youth to drink alcohol. The ordinance is a civil law that holds hosts accountable for allowing underage alcohol use on their property, regardless of who purchased the alcohol.

Texas has a strong statewide law – the Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor Law – which states that giving alcohol to minors is a Class A misdemeanor – just one degree below a felony. Punishment includes up to $4000 in fines, up to one year in jail, or both, and an automatic 180-day suspension of the offender’s driver’s license. However, because this offense is classified as “criminal,” the burden on law enforcement to provide sufficient evidence for conviction is high. This often results in cases being dismissed without anyone being held accountable for providing alcohol to minors at an underage drinking party.

Texans Standing Tall recently worked with Circles of San Antonio (COSA) to help pass a SHO in San Antonio. COSA conducted underage drinking surveys in San Antonio, and they found that 90% of parents believed that underage drinking is a problem; 87% of adults thought that parents should be held responsible for the actions of minors that occurred on their property. 93% of the law enforcement surveyed thought underage drinking was a moderate to severe problem in San Antonio, and 79% of law enforcement surveyed believed that social hosts should be held accountable for parties. This research helped inform COSA’s strategy to pursue a civil SHO.  Thanks to COSA’s hard work, the San Antonio SHO passed, and they became the largest city in the country to have a civil SHO. The San Antonio SHO will go into effect on March 1, 2017.

Civil social hosts ordinances are an alternative route for reducing youth social access to alcohol. Local civil social host ordinances are more easily enforced and serve as another tool to reduce underage drinking. Civil cases require a lower burden of proof – “clear and convincing evidence” instead of evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt.” They typically have lower fines than a criminal law, and they also do not have punishments like jail-time and license suspension associated with them.

A civil SHO is a useful tool for communities seeking to hold adults accountable for underage drinking. With the passage of civil SHOs in two of the largest cities in Texas, this strategy has momentum, and we are excited about helping communities pursue their own civil social host ordinance. Contact Libby Banks at lbanks@TexansStandingTall.org or Brian Lemons at blemons@texansstandingtall.org if you are interested in receiving more information about reducing underage social access to alcohol in your community!