At the start of 2012 when new laws came int effect regarding underage alcohol consumption at private events I became interested as to how this would work and what it would mean for families, teens and the law. We have seen some feedback in the media In regard to These new laws around supply of alcohol to minors at parties and private functions, requiring parent or guardian consent.
The law now states that as an adult hosting a party or private event where those under the age of 18 years are attending with intent to drink alcohol; a requirement to obtain parent or legal guardian consent before supplying or allowing alcohol to be consumed at the private venue is necessary. This can be obtained verbally or in writing, but does not mean that if a teen tells the host "Mum and Dad said its ok for me to drink." they have parent consent. It must be direct parent or guardian consent.
While obtaining parent/ guardian consent is necessary; it is not the only part of the responsibilities as a host of a party where alcohol is available to minors. As the supervising or hosting adult there are a number of other legal responsibilities.
While teens with consent are apparently allowed to drink at private premisis, they are not allowed to drink in public. This means they cannot be out the front of the house/property consuming or under the influence of alcohol, this may cost them $500 and the host, in excess of $6000 as the supervisor or supplier.
Responsible service of alcohol laws also come into play and may result in legal consiquences seperate to that of supplying a minor. It is the hosting aduults responsibity to ensure that intoxication is not an issue. Just like within a licenced premisis the bar attendant and the propritor have legal resposibilites to ensure that patrons consume in a responsible manner and are cut of from being served when they become noticably intoxicated, the host/ supervising adult at a party with teens has a legal duty to ensure that under aged drinkers are not put at risk due to being in intoxicated states.
This means that at all times the hosting adults are required to supervise the party or event. This requires the adult host to be present and awake at all times to enable them to supervise. The hosting adult also has legal responsibility to cut underaged drinkers off who are at the risk of intoxication. Legal responsibility is also an issue in regard to general safety while in the hosting adults care.
As it remains illegal to supply / buy alcohol for a minor, it is a grey area within the law as to how this relates to the supplying of alcohol at a party for the host and the parent , as for a teen to drink alcohol in the first instance, somebody must buy it for them.
Public liability and civil laws may also be issues to consider before hosting under aged parties with alcohol consumption.
Another consideration that requires more research in reflection of the new criminal laws of under aged alcohol consumption; is the cross over of child protection laws in relation to knowingly putting a child's health and safety at risk.
There is significant research indicating that alcohol consumption, particularly during teenage years effects synapse growth and development. As the brain goes through major growth and change during early teen years from about the age of thirteen-fourteen onward, with new synapse forming and re-routing the pathways of the brain; alcohol consumption during this period impedes brain development and function.
Research has also reflected that the consumption of alcohol; wheather in the form of regular, controlled consumption or occasional binge drinking during teen years results in a decreased capacity to learn and retain new information. According to research, for the average teen who commences alcohol consumption between the ages of fourteen and sixteen; their ability to take in and retain new information past the age of commencing use is impaired.
Other issues to consider is the limited insight, judgement and impulse control of the teenage mind which is further reduced when alcohol is added. The outcome of this may be poorly thought out behaviour and limited coping ability or problem solving skills in unwanted situations.
Finally; the issue of increased addiction or reliance on alcohol is said to be significantly greater with early exposure to alcohol.
I'm not suggesting that alcohol doesn't have a place in our society. I for one enjoy a drink with friends and family; however when it comes to teens isn’t it best to give them as much opportunity to grow up physically and mentally strong and into capable and reliable adults. Teen parties loaded with booze and binge drinking are not compatible with the concept of healthy teen development.
As an ex-teen binge drinker I sometimes wonder what my potential may have been without the input of alcohol at such an early age. I do know that I would have avoided the grief of a few far too early funerals of mates; along with avoiding some potentially life altering or life threatening events myself. Hindsight tells me, the risks far outweighed the entertainment and still do.
Better Heath Channel: Alcohol - Teenagers
Department of Justice Victoria, Australia: Alcohol