HELP! Ethical concern with teen drinking


#1

My husband and I have just discovered that, while we were gone for the weekend, our 18 year old son had some friends over without our knowledge. There was alcohol brought into our home and served to about 15 teens, all seniors and juniors in high school, NONE of legal age. Our son has never once given us any trouble of this kind before. He admitted the mistake as soon as we got home and is clearly troubled by what he did. We are shocked and concerned and worried. The only bright spot is that he did insist on designated drivers for all concerned.

Aside from the obvious parenting issues and trust violations, here is my pressing concern: Are my husband and I legally, morally, or ethically obligated to contact the parents of the teens we know were in our home while we were gone? If so, will doing so place my son or my husband and I at legal risk in anyway?

I want very much to contact the parents, to do the right thing. I know this could end up with these kids all being kicked out (expelled) from the Catholic high school they attend, my son included. As grievous as that would be, I would understand and accept if the school finds out about this party and does choose to expel them. My bigger concern however is the safety and future of these kids. I would very much want to know if my child has been drinking at some OTHER parent's home, with or without their knowledge or approval. I admit however that I am reluctant to expose my son or my husband and myself to possible jail time.

We know the name of the boy who brought the alcohol (considerable amounts of it) and he too is underage in this country, but not in his home country. Am I legally, morally, or ethically responsible for contacting his parents? The school?

Any input appreciated. Thanks for your thoughts and advice.


#2

As far as I understand, it would actually be a sin for you to make your son’s sin public.

Your son is not endangering anyone, he has expressed remorse and the intention not to repeat his behavior.

Catechism of the Catholic Church quote:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and **word likely to cause them unjust injury.**278 He becomes guilty:

  • of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
    **
  • of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279
    **
  • of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

I would say that as a mother you should protect your son. An 18 year old getting expelled from his Catholic school? There goes his college admission.

There is a reason why detraction is a sin.


#3

I know where I live in New York, there is a law that says that if under 21 people are drinking in their parents house than the parents could get arrested. I don't know if it is a law in other states. Me, being a parent, I would be concerned about who he's hanging out with. If nothing happened to any of the kids, I probably would only tell the parents I knew only b/c you don't know how some parents may react.. I would want to know if my kid was drinking. It is not a sin to help protect our children.


#4

[quote="AuntMama, post:1, topic:179631"]
My husband and I have just discovered that, while we were gone for the weekend, our 18 year old son had some friends over without our knowledge. There was alcohol brought into our home and served to about 15 teens, all seniors and juniors in high school, NONE of legal age. Our son has never once given us any trouble of this kind before. He admitted the mistake as soon as we got home and is clearly troubled by what he did. We are shocked and concerned and worried. The only bright spot is that he did insist on designated drivers for all concerned.

Aside from the obvious parenting issues and trust violations, here is my pressing concern: Are my husband and I legally, morally, or ethically obligated to contact the parents of the teens we know were in our home while we were gone? If so, will doing so place my son or my husband and I at legal risk in anyway?

I want very much to contact the parents, to do the right thing. I know this could end up with these kids all being kicked out (expelled) from the Catholic high school they attend, my son included. As grievous as that would be, I would understand and accept if the school finds out about this party and does choose to expel them. My bigger concern however is the safety and future of these kids. I would very much want to know if my child has been drinking at some OTHER parent's home, with or without their knowledge or approval. I admit however that I am reluctant to expose my son or my husband and myself to possible jail time.

We know the name of the boy who brought the alcohol (considerable amounts of it) and he too is underage in this country, but not in his home country. Am I legally, morally, or ethically responsible for contacting his parents? The school?

Any input appreciated. Thanks for your thoughts and advice.

[/quote]

I do not think it's beneficial to turn a few beers into the "forbidden fruit". Teen who want to drink, should be able to sit down at the kitchen table or while watching a ball game on TV with mom and dad and share a beer once in a while. My children were permitted to do this with us and never once got into alcohol related, or any other trouble. Most of their friends went crazy seeking alcohol and would get dangerously intoxicated the minute they were out of their mom and dad's sight. My kids were also told that if they ever drank outside the home while underage, or obtained alcohol for anyone who is underage that they would be severely grounded. Zero tolerance!

Not surprisingly, they rarely took us up on the beer offer but would have a glass of wine when we had company. Alcohol was just never a big deal to them because we let them partake in a moderate fashion ....and only when we were with them. We taught them that if they choose to drink that they were to drink in a moderate and responsible manner.

What your son did however is clearly wrong and extremely dangerous not to mention your exposure to legal and financial liability. You can be sued for every penny you have if one of those kids got into an accident and killed someone. He needs to be made aware of this in a profound way.

Should you "inform" on the kids involved? Probaby Not.... The reason I say that is because there has been a severe over-reaction to this issue of underage drinking to the point where kids are being expelled and parents are going to jail over a seventeen year old (who is old enough to go to war in Afghanistan) over one can of beer!

Your son should talk to all involved about the incident explaining the liabilities and let them know that it will never happen again. And if you do see these kids again, you can tell them that you will call their parents if you ever find about that they have been drinking before they reach age.


#5

I really doubt that the kids will get expelled or even suspended from school because of underage drinking. The school is simply not going to take action over hearsay about a student being at a party where alcohol was involved. When I was 18 I had my parents permission to drink as long as I didn’t get drunk and many of my friends were the same so I bet many of the parents already know about the party. At 18 you’re an adult so I don’t really see how contacting the parents will do any good or be a moral requirement. I think the best thing to do is just punish your son anyway you see fit and then forget the whole thing happened.


#6

If you want to know the legal ramifications, contact a lawyer. No one here is qualified to give you an answer on that.

Regarding the rest of the situation, I would discipline my child according to the rules of who may be at the house when parents are away. There seem to be several possible violations of house rules. I don’t know if you allow him to have company when you are away, more than one person, girls, etc. Next I would determine if he knew (or knew it was likely) that someone was bringing alcohol. Then I would deal with him by grounding, privileges removed, etc.

Regarding the rest of the teens, that’s a judgment call on your part.


#7

If it were my kid, I'd want you to tell me.


#8

Exactly.

As far as sin goes, I feel it might be a sin NOT to tell the other parents about their own children’s involvement in this. If you don’t tell them now, how many other drinking parties might they wind up at before the parents find out? Would it be too late then? No telling what could happen at the next party. :frowning:


#9

Have you shared with your son what could happen to you as his parents if he did this again? Law suits? Jail time? That should shake him up a little. Not to mention what could happen if one of his friends got into a car after having 8 or ten beers and then got into a car accident or hit someone with his car. We live in a college town and recently, a student went to a fraternity party, drank himself silly, then got in his car and killed a 36 year old woman who was on the side of the road. He is 23 years old and will be in jail until he's 36. His life is ruined.
Tell your son a few horror stories like this and help him to see that choices he makes now can affect him the rest of his life. The things he does, the friends he has, the places he goes to hang out, all these things add up to who he is and who he wants to be.
I'm sure you know all this already but I don't think it can be stressed enough to teens and young people. They only see what's in front of them and think that they're invincible.


#10

Their school would have absolutely no standing (to expel) unless the event occurred on their premises, scheduled or extra-curricular activity, or with kids in uniform (check their rules) or if the kids ‘earn’ a ‘conviction’ for their stunt (public record). Certainly won’t make for ‘good relations’, but there are legal limits with regard to what the school can do.

On the other hand,
You have a bigger issue, what is in your kids head to think he can do such a thing, in your house? Pretty sad to now have to have a ‘baby sitter’ for him at 18 if you have to leave the house for the weekend again. Liability - yep, you could loose everything you have - your house, your 401k, your future income - if anyone would to have gotten so much as a even a ‘scratch’. Insurance liability policies don’t pay when the ‘covered’ are breaking the law!!! You can still even be sued from this event, if one of the ‘guest’ kids gets into any kind of legal trouble, etc. To put it in perspective, kinda like your kid was ‘gambling’ with YOUR assets - all of them!!! If he’s 18, he is a ‘legal adult’ - I’d inform him that any repeat-performance of such an event - ever again - , and you are going to ‘boot’ him out on the curb (if for nothing else to than to legally sever yourselves from the responsibilities of his stupid stunts). Sounds harsh - but your kid needs to wise-up quick.

all that aside, "Are my husband and I legally, morally, or ethically obligated to contact the parents of the teens we know were in our home while we were gone?If so, will doing so place my son or my husband and I at legal risk in anyway" . . the ‘event’ that places you at risk is ALREADY DONE . . . . you should be asking this to a LAWYER - not to a talkgroup forum . . .


#11

Drinking probably wasn't the only thing going on. There were probably kids using your house for sex and other stuff in the back rooms. If drugs were brought in, you could have had the whole house impounded if the cops had been called by neighbors.

Your son has shown that he's only good when he's being watched and he doesn't have the maturity to be left alone and treated like an adult.

He broke the trust.

As far as alcohol being the forbidden fruit... I never agreed with that. We had wine maybe half a glass at Thanksgiving. But really, our parents didn't push it. They rarely drank themselves.

It's an adult drink for people who have shown adult responsibility. It's a mind-altering substance that can be toxic to the liver in large doses. Like driving, it's a privelege to drink when you have shown you can handle smaller priveleges with responsibility.

And yes, some kids who were raised drinking with mom and dad also join in and party like animals when they are in college. It's not a hard and fast rule.

Don't leave the child alone any more.

You're lucky your house didn't attract 200 people and the police didn't end up being called in.


#12

I've seen too many teen tragedies. You need to tell other parents or contact a lawyer. It was at your house and the alcohol was technically provided by you. However, your son being 18 legally protects you a great deal.

In a case of law the "before parties" leading up to a tragedy are part of a patter that people look for when prosecuting. If a teen drives drunk, if a girl gets raped, if someone looses their temper and hurts or kills someone it could be traced back to that party. While its not very likely angry parents and lawyers like to go after everyone.

What if another teen decides he or she needs to come clean about the party. There's some collateral damage that needs to be thought of, even if there isn't a legal ramification.

Your son could of ruined the rest of his life. Because he's 18 he could be served with serving alcohol to underage and minors. Its a felony with YEARS of jail time attached.

As a final note your son needs to think hard about who brought the alcohol and he or she or they need to be exposed and parents need to be informed.

Best of luck and my prayers to all involved.


#13

I’m the mother of two grown daughers, 25 and 28, and live in a very party-oriented community (Mardi Gras in the US originated here, so that should tell you something.) We were blessed in that neither of the girls traveled in a crowd that drank, and were too involved in school, ballet, and other extracurricular activities to even have time for that. We are eternally grateful.

I think that the first thing I’d do is to sit your son down and ask him “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” You indicate that this is (at least to your knowledge) the first serious breach of trust. While holding a party in your absence and without your knowledge is bad enough, you said that someone else brought the alcohol. It may well be that things escaped his control very quickly. Try to get to the bottom of it, and base your discipline and decisions on what you find. He must expect some consequences; what they are is up to you.

I would absolutely want to know if my child had been drinking. Again, that must be your call; sadly, we all know that some parents will react in a violent way.

It’s hard to know what the specifics are regarding your personal responsibility in this. Clearly it was without your knowledge, but sometimes that doesn’t help. I think that acting in the most responsible way you know how, based on the knowledge you can gain about the situation, is the way to go. My gut feeling would be to speak to the parents you know, and at the very least, to the kids whose parents you don’t. This will at least instill enough fear in them (one would hope) to think twice before doing this again. I think you can be pretty confident that your son won’t pull this again, as you won’t allow him to be in that position, having lost your trust.

My prayers go out to you.


#14

I see parents who share your point of view (“I’d much rather they drink at home”) all the time; several of them in our community have been charged with crimes as a result.

Parents who allow their kids to drink at home are simply teaching them that they can - with their parents’ endorsement and support - break laws they don’t like. This is not responsible parenting, no matter how you rationalize it.


#15

Thank you for all the many viewpoints expressed here. My husband and I are struggling with this. We have decided to go to the school’s priest, who is also the formation master for the boys of the high school and a semi-principal there, and discuss with him whether or now to contact the other parents as well. If it were my child who had been served alcohol at someone else’s home, I would want to know.

This is the first and only time our son has ever done anything remotely like this. To answer one point that was raised, he did know there would be alcohol provided, and consented to that. He seems remorseful now. Bad judgment is par for the course for 18 year olds but this was WAY out of line and so dangerous it makes me sick to my stomach to think of it. I am so so grateful that no one got hurt.

If there are legal consequences for us or for our son, so be it. It is in God’s hands. We don’t have much to lose, frankly, we are pretty poor already.

Again, thank you for your responses. I invite more conversation.

AuntMama


#16

As someone who does not life in the US (and has never lived there), it seems very strange to me that at 18 a young person is legally an adult and can vote, but is underage for drinking alcohol! Either they are adults or they are not. Where I live, if they are legal adults it is also legal for them to drink.

Personally, I believe that making young people legal adults at 18 was done strictly to have more voters and was an enormous mistake.

Clearly, 18 year olds do not have the maturity needed to be adults.


#17

Personally, I think that you did the right thing going to the school’s priest. You don’t know if any of these kids had medical problems which could have made this extremely dangerous. Also if those children are not out on their own and are still living under the roofs of their own parents then they are obligated to live under their own parents rules. The only thing I think you could have done differently is to have required your son to have gone and faced up to the priest. If you want to be an adult and make adult decisions you should have to live with adult consequences.


#18

That is probably a very good way to have handled it. Maybe the priest can find a way to inform parents without you being drug unto it. I do wish you luck though, I hope none of the parents bring any charges against you.

And dixieagle, I believe it is in fact legal for parents to allow their children to drink on their property. The children can’t leave while under the influence and it doesn’t include anyone but their children. It was probably parents who threw drinking parties with the mindset “They’ll have them anyway, at least now I can keep an eye on them.”


#19

In my state, there are no exceptions to the under 21 rules, including for in-home consumption in parents’ presence. That is what I based my response on.

I am rather surprised that exemptions, aside from religious practices, exist anywhere, but you are correct, based on what I can find. Apologies to FiberZilla if he/she lives in a state where there is an exception.

While I am still adamantly opposed to furnishing any alcohol, outside of religious services, to minors, if the state has an exception, then there is no law being broken, and the point is moot.

Parties such as you mention are extremely common here, sadly.


#20

If it were my child who had been served alcohol at someone else's home, I would want to know.

You don't know if any of these kids had medical problems which could have made this extremely dangerous.

This is my situation-- one of my teens takes daily medication which could make what would normally seem like a safe amount of alcohol quite dangerous for her. While she knows that full well (and is actually glad she has a rock-solid excuse if she finds herself in a situation where peers are drinking!) it was still the first thing that popped into my mind. "Hidden" teen drinking like this, IMHO is always a risky prospect-- alcohol poisoning, pre-existing health/medication issues, sexual activity, drunk driving, etc... You should check the legal implications, of course, but I'd say there's a pretty strong moral imperative to let the other parents know.

Margaret


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