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Important role of parents

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By William D. Killen & Roland Warren
Saturday, July 22, 2006
 

We've seen enough. Too many young lives lost in senseless crashes, too many families whose lives have been shattered.

As first responders on the scene and counselors to those family members left behind, we must speak out against teen drinking parties hosted by parents.

As parents, we want what's best for our children. And at this time of year when parties and summer celebrations are under way, we may think that hosting a party for our sons and daughters and providing alcohol is the "right" thing to do. We may think if they're at our house, we can keep them safe. We may even take the teens' keys when they arrive at the party.

But, unfortunately, instead of "right," this is very wrong. Not only is providing alcohol to minors against the law, the consequences can be deadly. Parents cannot control all of the variables, no matter how diligent they are. Teens often find a way to leave these parties after they've been drinking. And that's when they and their families end up in our care.

That's when as firefighter/paramedics we're called to the scene to use the jaws of life to peel back the roof and remove a seriously injured teen from the mangled wreck that used to be a car. And that's when, as counselors, we're called to help support the single mother who has just lost her first born and the younger brother who just lost his role model to a tragic car crash.

According to reports released by the National Academy of Sciences and the American Medical Association, two-thirds of teens who drink say they get alcohol from their parents or other adults. So is hosting a party with alcohol for our teens really inevitable• Is being our teen's best friend more important than being his parent• Absolutely not.

That's why in the past few years many state and local governments have enacted legislation to curb underage drinking by specifically targeting parents and other adults who provide alcohol at these teen parties. These parents not only break the law, they run the risk of undermining their value and credibility to their own children.

We must teach our children that society has rules, and we have to enforce those rules.

Despite the parenting challenges, teens really do listen to their parents. It's not peers, television or the Internet that influence the important decisions teens make -- it's parents. According to the 2005 Roper Youth Report, a nationally representative poll, 74 percent of teens ages 13-17 say their parents are the No. 1 influence in their decisions about whether they drink alcohol.

The good news is that having these important, albeit sometimes difficult, conversations with our teens, pays off -- 82 percent of young people ages 12-17 don't drink, according to the Federal Government's 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

It's up to us as parents to reinforce that good behavior. Recognizing this positive parent power, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Fatherhood Initiative are partnering with Anheuser-Busch on an important responsibility program titled, "Prevent. Don't Provide." This initiative reminds parents and other adults not to provide alcohol to teens and their friends at parties. We must hold our ground together and just say no.

Putting teens, inexperience and alcohol together is a recipe for disaster. It's time for this deadly combination to end. Parents may find out more by visiting www.preventdontprovide.com.

Chief William D. Killen, CFO, of Fairfax, Va., is president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Roland Warren, of Gaithersburg, Md., is president of the National Fatherhood Initiative.

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