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Parents Who Host Lose the Most: Underage Drinking at Graduation Parties



Did you know nearly 41 million students will graduate high school this year? Did you also know that despite requests to hold their applause until all names are read at graduation, about 500,000 parents will clap, cheer, or otherwise ignore those requests?  

OK, I made up that last statistic, but high school graduation is an exciting time for young adults and overly enthusiastic parents. As high school students graduate and go on to pursue trades, college, or full-time work, parents may feel the temptation or pressure to treat teens as adults or let them “blow off steam” at graduation parties.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures2, thirty-one states allow social hosts to be civilly liable for injuries or damages caused by underaged drinkers, and thirty states have criminal penalties for adults who host or permit parties with underage drinking to occur in the adult’s homes or premises under the adult’s control. In addition, some municipalities have local ordinances, which can include additional fines or other penalties.

In an Illinois case from 20063, the parents of a local high school student were convicted of child endangerment and obstruction of justice after two teens died when their car crashed into a tree after leaving a party at their home. Their high-school-aged son was hosting a drinking party with their knowledge and permission in their basement. They also faced a five-year court battle with the parents of the deceased teenagers until the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the civil judgment that initially held them liable.  

So, what can parents do to stay on the right side of the law?

  • Make it clear to their children that any graduation party at their home will not include underage drinking. 
  • If their children are going to other parties where alcohol is available, remind them that many academic and athletic scholarships are conditioned on good behavior. Don't let them start their college careers with a disciplinary hearing because of an alcohol-related offense. 
  • Remove underage drinkers who try and bring their own alcohol to the party. Secure alternative transportation for them if needed. 
  • If your guests include parents of teenage attendees, remind them of your "house rules." They may have different attitudes about underage drinking. 
  • If things get too out of hand, call the police for assistance. This can absolve you of criminal and civil liability in many states, including Illinois.
While alcohol-fueled parties are often glamorized in movies and on social media, your graduation party doesn’t have to be one of them. Parents or others of legal drinking age can still drink responsibly and set an excellent example for their new graduates. Remember that they’re still only 17 or 18 years old, and it wasn’t that long ago that you were standing at the bus stop for their first day of kindergarten. Let them continue to grow up with your help and guidance.  
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David Miller is Vice President and Private Client Team Leader, managing the personal lines practice.
He has over 25 years of insurance experience, including designing group umbrella policies for corporate executives and managing high net-worth clients. Contact David at 847.307.6141 to discuss event insurance.