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Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Parents shouldn't bring teenagers, alcohol together

As the high school social season moves from graduation celebrations to summer parties, many parents rightfully worry about the safety of their children. But instead of worrying or trying to reduce underage access to alcohol, an increasing number of parents are actually supplying alcohol to teenagers.

Recent polls by the American Medical Association, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, asked parents and teens about high school graduation and prom parties.

J. Edward Hill is a Mississippi physician and president-elect of the American Medical Association.

One in 10 parents responded that it was OK for underage teens to attend prom or graduation parties with alcohol if a parent were present. But twice as many 16- to 18-year-olds responded that they have attended a graduation party with drinking and parents present. And 15 percent of those respondents had been to a graduation party where the alcohol was actually supplied by parents.

The higher number of teen responses than parents suggests a dangerous trend in parents supplementing their own judgment for that of others. This small minority of parents undermines the authority of the vast majority who, rightly, do not allow their teenage children to drink.

Many of these parents hope that by throwing parties themselves, they can control where or how their children celebrate. Some actually purchase and serve the alcohol themselves, believing that underage drinking is inevitable or even a "rite of passage."

But fatal car accidents, injuries and assaults are not rites of passage for any child. Underage drinking is a major factor in the two leading causes of teenage deaths: car accidents and fatal injuries. A 2002 study revealed that 40 percent of teen traffic fatalities during prom and graduation weekends were alcohol-related.

It is also linked to two-thirds of all sexual assaults and date rapes of teens, and increases the likelihood of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. And a recent AMA report reveals the long-term, irreversible damage that drinking does to the teen brain, which continues developing until age 20.

Communities and elected officials should send a strong message to parents who think that supplying alcohol to teenagers is OK. Current laws against providing alcohol to minors should be enforced, and more communities should implement reforms and measures that have worked elsewhere, such as alcohol-free

parties for seniors, public education campaigns, anonymous tip lines to report underage parties, and signed pledges from parents to not provide alcohol to teens.

Parents should talk to children about the harmful consequences of drinking and explain why they won't be serving alcohol at any parties. Parents should talk with other parents to ensure that alcohol consumption by minors is not an option at celebrations.

Bad decisions by parents, or the communities who accept parent-hosted parties, should not put our children or their futures at risk. Responsible parents can make high school graduation and summertime a fun and lasting memory for everyone without the alcohol.

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