Co-Authored by Mary Jane Burke and Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle
In Marin County we have passed a “social host” ordinance holding adults responsible for teen alcohol or drug use occurring on their property whether or not they are home. We know from the latest Marin data that 68% of our 11th grade students report having used alcohol (30% report binge drinking). We have experienced the loss of too many students in drunk driving accidents and other tragedies. Yet, to read the headline “Police intercept teens’ party bus” in the Marin Independent Journal on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 the reaction has to be “YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING!”
In the latest California Healthy Kids Survey, students identify their parents/guardians as the most significant influence on their attitudes and actions related to the use of alcohol and drugs. Parents are the first, best teachers. How could a 16 year old boy book a bus online for $900 and his parents/guardians not know? How could a responsible bus company employ a driver who allegedly was in possession of narcotics, a switchblade knife, drug paraphernalia, prescription drugs and alcohol? How did the teens supposedly acquire 30 containers of hard alcohol, a case of spiked lemonade and a jar of marijuana and their parents/guardians be totally unaware?
For many years, the Marin County School/Law Enforcement Partnership has been working with schools and local hoteliers to prohibit teens from renting rooms for unsupervised prom or graduation parties. “Safe and Sane” graduation events are promoted by most schools. Many other public and nonprofit agencies work every day to keep our students informed and safe. There is a program in some of our high schools called “Be the Influence” which is designed to support parents/guardians in discouraging teen drug or alcohol use. (See information at www.betheinfluencemarin.com)
Marin County has a zero tolerance policy about the misuse of alcohol and drugs by minors and will hold adults responsible for those young people accountable for any tragedies, law enforcement costs or other consequences of illegal activities. Some parents may ask then, how can I prevent my teen from making these poor decisions?
Here are some common sense suggestions parents may use before allowing their children to participate in social activities:
- Plan in advance. Know where your teenager is going and with whom.
- Agree to the rules ahead of time—no drugs or alcohol, no smoking, no partying in private hotel rooms or on party buses.
- Set a time limit—a time for your son or daughter to be home.
- If your child is going to someone’s house, call and talk to the adults who will chaperone.
- Make your child’s safety your responsibility.
- Have consequences that will be suffered if your child violates the agreements.
Setting rules, limits and consequences is challenging for parents, school officials and other concerned adults. We must always remember that our job as adults is not to be our children’s best friend. It is to parent, nurture and protect them. As much as our children might protest our limits, they are often happy to blame us for their inability to participate in questionable activities; give them that opportunity to blame us.
In the final analysis, it does “take a village to raise a child.” That commitment by our community in no way reduces or eliminates the responsibility of parents/guardians to teach their children, set examples of appropriate behaviors, set limits, know what their children are doing and with whom they are doing it. It is disturbing to think what might have happened if this “party bus” had gone on with its six hour excursion with 14-17 year old children drinking and ingesting drugs. Young lives could have been lost or forever changed and families devastated. Our children are the future. We must take every precaution to insure that they are able to achieve to their highest potential. They believe they are indestructible. We know all too well that they are not.
Let us together, as parents, schools, law enforcement, community agencies and all other segments of Marin County recommit to showing our love for our children through insuring their safety by our actions as role models and our responsibility as teachers. A good example of this is the community member who took it upon themselves to report the incident to authorities. The work must start with aware and responsible parents/guardians who will be supported by the entire community. Let us resolve that there will never again be a situation like the “party bus” where we will find ourselves in disbelief saying, “You have to be kidding!”