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Panelists Warn Parents of the Danger of Hosting Teen Parties at Home

UsagebygradePride Survey of Drug and Alcohol Usage 2017As parents we do everything we can to guarantee our children’s safety. To protect toddlers we covered the electric outlets. When our kids learn to ride a bike, we outfit them with knee pads and helmets. When they’re ready to venture out on their own we warn them about the danger of speaking to strangers. But how can we safeguard teens when they attend parties and experiment with drugs and alcohol?

It’s a conundrum. Do we forbid them from taking a sip or wine or beer or accept the fact that at some point they will indulge?  I’ve heard some parents reason that experimentation is inevitable and say, “It’s better if my teen and their friends drink in my home, that way I know they are safe.” Well if that’s your line of thinking, the Scarsdale Drug and Alcohol Task Force (DATF) and our local police department would ask you to think twice before letting this happen.

On Wednesday 12/11, DATF presented a Social Hosting Panel Discussion with panelists: Susan Brownbill-Vega, Assistant District Attorney, Westchester County, Chief Andrew Matturro, Scarsdale Police Department, Detective Jason Bronstein, Community Resource Officer - Scarsdale Police Department, Dr. James Bregman, ER Physician - White Plains Hospital, and moderated by Emily  Vallario, LCSW, Director of Community Services, Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services. 

Ms. Vallario began the discussion by providing statistics from the most recent Pride Survey on substance usage among Scarsdale students in 2017. The Pride Survey is a bi-annual study that surveys high school students about their substance use and their perceptions about perceived rates of substance use. The survey revealed that 40% of all students and 52% of all seniors, admitted to using alcohol in the last 30 days. The survey also revealed that 57% of students who admitted to drinking, said they got the alcohol from their home or from a friend’s home. 

So what do these stats mean for parents? Well quite a lot, but the group of panelists thought we should all be aware that Westchester County has a law in place called the Social Host Law aimed at reducing underage drinking. Moreover, as Assistant D.A. Brownbill-Vega explained, the ordinance came into effect in 2008 and allows for local police to take action at parties and get involved when things may get out of hand. Brownbill-Vega also proclaimed that the ordinance is in place to encourage adults to act responsibly and to keep our children safe from unwanted consequences of under-age drinking. A quick look at the Westchester County D.A. website defines the law this way: 

Under the Westchester County ‘Social Host Law,’ it is unlawful for any person over the age of 21 to “knowingly allow” or “to fail to take reasonable corrective action upon becoming aware of” the consumption of alcohol by minors in his or her residence. The social host law “[serves] to deter the consumption of alcoholic beverages by minors by holding those persons who are 21 years old or more responsible.” 

Under the New York State Penal Law, any person who gives, sells or causes to be given or sold any alcoholic beverage to someone under the age of 21 faces potential prosecution for Unlawfully Dealing with a Child, a class “A” misdemeanor, which could result in up to one year in jail and/or a fine.

Ms. Vallario continued the discussion with a question for Chief Andrew Matturro. She asked, “Empowered by the Social Host Law, how does our local police department usually respond when they are dispatched to a house party?” Chief Matturro stated that the Scarsdale PD works very closely with Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services to try to prevent things before they happen. From educating students in school, to presenting information to parents at events like this one, Chief Matturro stressed that it is about safety first. This includes keeping kids safe from the consequences of underage drinking such as vandalism, sexual assault, and accidents. Chief Matturro went on to detail the 911 Good Samaritan Law which allows people to call 911 without fear of arrest if they are having a drug or alcohol overdose that requires emergency medical care or if they witness someone overdosing. 

Detective Bronstein, Community Resource Officer, also stressed the police department’s focus on safety when they respond to calls about parties. He stated that when they are called to a party (usually due to a noise complaint or too many guests), police officers first work to make sure that everyone is safe, that no one is sick or putting themselves in danger. They also try to locate an adult to speak to and if there are no adults present, they will search for the teen who lives in the home. Police officers then contact each party goer’s parents to ensure that everyone leaves with an adult. 

Detective Bronstein further explained that in addition to being given a summons if it is proven that adults knowingly let teens drink in their home, those same adults can be held accountable through civil lawsuits if an intoxicated teen leaves the home and causes damage elsewhere. Other penalties after being found guilty depend on the circumstances and how often one has broken the Social Host law. Though the penalties are not usually severe, first time offenders can be fined $250 and repeat offenders can be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to jail time. 

Both officers said that as soon as you suspect or are notified of teens drinking alcohol in your home, you should take constructive actions to stop the activity. Likewise, if teens arrive at your home intoxicated but have not consumed alcohol at your residence, you should still take constructive action or you can be found liable for drinking related consequences the teen may suffer under your supervision. They also encourage parents to call the police department for help if a party is “getting out of hand” in any way. 

Furthermore, while police officers must be invited into your home or have warrants to gain full access, if they have any reason to believe the situation is dangerous or anyone is in danger, they will enter the premise. Again, the police’s main goal is to keep all Scarsdale residents safe and protected. Chief Matturro emphasized that while they certainly do not condone any sort of underage drinking, they are not looking to punish but instead want to work with parents and the community to be part of a solution. And to answer an audience member’s question, it is in the spirit of solution based thinking that officers won’t usually force teens at parties to show ID. They do however, strongly urge all community members to cooperate with the police at all times as it usually works out best for everyone involved.

Adding to this informative discussion was panelist Dr. James Bregman who is an ER Physician at White Plains Hospital. Dr. Bregman began by describing some of the situations in relation to underage drinking he encounters. He has helped teens in a variety of situations, from an over-worried parent bringing in their slightly intoxicated teen, to extreme intoxication/alcohol poisoning needing more serious care such as an I.V. drips and overnight monitoring. In regard to alcohol poisoning, Dr. Bregman wants kids to know that alcohol and other drugs, can affect everyone differently depending on their body mass, tolerance level, metabolism, genetics, grade of alcohol, and more. He also worries that many young people binge drink, leading to a higher alcohol content in their blood which in turn can lead to alcohol poisoning. Dr. Bregman reminded us that severe intoxication can greatly affect the central nervous system and impact balance, coordination, and judgement leading to risk of physical injury. Severe intoxication can also lead to loss of unconscious and risk of aspiration. When asked if he saw more vaping related ER visits, Dr. Bregman said that they were certainly on the rise but that alcohol consumption was still the leading reason for a trip to the ER.

The presentation neatly concluded when one parent suggested that we need more spaces for our teens to hang out at and another parent asked, “What can we do as parents? Tell our children to never drink or be more realistic and prepare for the times that they might experiment?” All of the panelists seemed to agree that it is important to talk to your kids. Have open, honest conversations with your children about the risks and consequences of drinking starting at an early age. Ms. Brownbill-Vega suggests that we make it very clear what our expectations are as parents and what we expect of our children. Chief Matturro also suggests that we use our community resources such as the police department and DATF. Lastly Emily Vallario reminded us that it really does take a village. She explained that SEFCS and the police department work closely with both the middle and high school to give presentations to educate students and to provide parent groups and educational presentations to the community.

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