Parents who host, lose most

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High school graduations are a time filled with pride and anticipation of bright futures. It is truly a reason to celebrate and congratulate all high school seniors and their parents as they reach this significant milestone in life.

At the same time, the end of high school often brings celebrations and parties which many times are risk laden with alcohol and other drugs. Rarely does a spring go by where a teen alcohol related accident along with tragic and permanent consequences doesn’t get our attention. This negative youth behavior is both alarming and sad, but is also preventable.

Parents, guardians and other adults possess an opinion most valued by their child and, as such, by talking about the risks of underage drinking and other drug use with teens, they can best help keep youth safe. There are very serious criminal and civil sanctions as well as substantial legal penalties that can be brought against any individual who serves or makes alcohol available to persons under the legal drinking age of 21 years of age in New Jersey.

Penalties can be as great as fines of up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail per person served. Parents can be held civilly liable even if they are not present during the time of a party at their residence.

If serving an underage person alcohol results in injury, the adult found responsible may be charged with Endangering the Welfare of a Child, and subject to a fine of up to $15,000 and 5 years in state prison (NJSA 2C: 24-4).

New Jersey law imposes civil liability on social hosts who serve alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age of 21 who is subsequently involved in an incident causing injury or death.

In Sussex County, 20 of the 24 municipalities have adopted the Underage Drinking Ordinance, (NJ statute 40:48-1.2) which empowered municipalities to “enact an ordinance making it unlawful for any person under the legal age of 21, who, without legal authority, knowingly possesses or knowingly consumes an alcoholic beverage on private property.” The penalty for youth who are drinking underage is a $250 fine for the first offense, $350 for any subsequent offenses as well as the suspension or postponement of driving privileges for six months.

For the third year in a row, the Center for Prevention and Counseling joined forces with law enforcement in our county, sending a message to all parents of high school seniors with the distribution of a letter stating the laws above along with a photo featuring youth from all ten Sussex County high schools. This letter was printed for 2,500 parents of high school seniors courtesy of The Printing Center in Sparta. In addition, several local billboards and banners with this message have been sponsored by the County of Sussex Municipal Alliances, Hopatcong Board of Education, Newton Medical Center, Signart Graphics, Somma Tech, Sparta Municipal Alliance and Sussex County School Administrators and Supervisors Association.

By letting parents and other adults know that they have a huge influence on the choices teens make, it serves to assist with the goal of reducing youth use of alcohol.

Celebrating without alcohol during prom and graduation season is another way to let teens know that they can have fun while remaining alcohol-free! For more information on underage drinking prevention and treatment, contact the Center for Prevention and Counseling at 973-383-4787 or visit their Web site at www.centerforprevention.org .

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