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Parents Urged To Prevent Underage Drinking


We discuss the consequences adults face for allowing underage drinking on their property and how parents can talk to their teens about drinking and responsible behavior.

TOM FUDGE (Host): I’m Tom Fudge. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. June has arrived and we're all getting ready to welcome summer, but a word of caution. San Diego police say June is second only to the Christmas and New Year's holiday season in its incidence of drunk driving and alcohol-related vehicle collisions. They believe a big reason for this is June is the time of numerous graduation and high-school prom celebrations. This puts some pressure on police but even more pressure on parents to make sure their high-school grads aren't involved in underage drinking. We’re going to be talking about this time of year as it relates to those subjects with two guests who join me in studio. Marsha Lyon is a prevention specialist with SAY San Diego and, Marsha, thank you very much.

MARSHA LYON (Prevention Specialist, SAY San Diego): Thank you for having me.

FUDGE: And Commander Patty Duke is with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. And, Commander Duke, thank you.

PATTY DUKE (Commander, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department): Thank you, and thank you for putting us on on this very important subject.

FUDGE: And, listeners, if you want to join us with your views on this important subject, you can do it by calling 1-888-895-5727. Maybe you have some questions about the Social Host Ordinance and what it means for you. 888-895-KPBS. Well, Marsha Lyon, let’s start by talking about the Social Host Ordinance and answering some of those questions. What is a Social Host Ordinance generally and how does it apply to San Diego County? I’m sorry. Did I say Marsha Lyon? I meant Commander Duke.

DUKE: Okay. Well, Social Host Ordinances are designed to prevent or deter consumption of alcohol beverages by minors at gatherings on private property. It really is a strategy. It’s a strategy to reduce the many social, health and public safety consequences of underage drinking parties.

FUDGE: Right, and what does it say? What are parents, for instance, not allowed to do?

DUKE: Well, it really does, it puts the onus on the parent or the host. It really is the duty of any person having control of any residence who knowingly hosts, permits or even allows a gathering to take place to take reasonable steps to prevent the consumption of alcohol beverages by minors. It’s really relatively simple.

FUDGE: It’s pretty simple. So you have to do what you can to prevent underage people from drinking at your home and, typically, this is – this becomes an issue when your kids have a party. Right?

DUKE: Right, right.

FUDGE: What are the consequences of violating the Social Host Ordinance? It is a misdemeanor, I think.

DUKE: It is a misdemeanor. It, unfortunately, something that Sheriff Gore’s committed to is, it’s – regionally it’s a little bit different in each municipality. The county has an ordinance and then each city has their own ordinance. There is a little bit of difference across the board, and in our hope and an initiative that we’re working closely with the board of supervisors on is to strengthen that regionally. But there is a fine. It’s a misdemeanor. The City of Santee has taken the lead on really strengthening their ordinance and their fine is a minimum—a minimum—thousand dollar fine. Minimum mandatory.

FUDGE: Minimum mandatory. And, of course, with misdemeanors, I think you do stand the risk of being in jail for up to six months.

DUKE: Exactly.

FUDGE: There is a famous case that involved the Social Host Ordinance out of Fallbrook. I can’t remember the name of the family that was involved and it doesn’t really matter, but I believe the mother of a family was sentenced to quite a bit of time of probation. Is that right?

DUKE: That is correct. I believe her sentence was three years probation.

FUDGE: Three years probation, and how long have we had Social Host Ordiances? I don’t think this was something that I grew up with at my age. Marsha, can you answer that question?

LYON: Yes, I can. San Diego passed an ordinance in 2003, and we’ve had ordinances passed ever since then. Actually, I’m sorry. Poway was the first ordinance in 2002.

FUDGE: 2002…

LYON: Yes.

FUDGE: …okay, so for almost a decade we’ve had Social Host Ordinances in San Diego County. Marsha, when we think about underage drinking, typically, how do underage drinkers get alcohol? How does that happen?

LYON: Well, we have been conducting adult surveys throughout the communities for the past three years, and the number one place where underage minors drink is at the home, and the number one way they get alcohol is in the home.

FUDGE: Now, does the social host ordinance actually apply to underage children having a glass of wine or beer during a meal together?

LYON: Not in – with their own family, it does not.

FUDGE: Not with their own family, the law wouldn’t apply but, I don’t know, do you think that’s a good idea?

LYON: Well, it’s really not my job to decide that or comment about that. I do – I do have to – our work focuses on providing alcohol to minors in a party setting and that’s what we focus on.

FUDGE: So what you’re concerned about is binge drinking more than anything else. Right?

LYON: No, we’re concerned about minors drinking period. It’s against the law.

FUDGE: It’s against the law, so you would not advise parents to share a glass of wine or a glass of beer with their underage kids at a meal.

LYON: I think that parents need to be role models and I think that the alcohol industry has indoctrinating (sic) us into believing that alcohol needs to be a part of every family and social gathering and I think that if we want our teens to grow up to make responsible choices, then we have to be good role models.

FUDGE: Commander Duke, I don’t know how you would answer this question but how big a problem is social hosting?

DUKE: It’s a huge problem. It – it’s certainly – All the party calls we go to require at le – a minimum of two officers to respond and, typically, when we get there and if the party’s large, it drains our resources and it takes away from us being able to provide safety and security for other areas that we are responsible for.

FUDGE: We’re located on the campus, KPBS is located on the campus of San Diego State University. To what extent does social – the host – social hosting law play into the problem of college parties.

DUKE: Well, I think that’s pretty obvious. I think the news is – has really covered well the issues with that in college campuses. It’s a drain, I’m certain, for the city police at San Diego State and also for the adjoining jurisdictions.

FUDGE: My guests are Commander Patty Duke with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and Marsha Lyon, who’s a prevention specialist with SAY San Diego. We’re talking about the season for prom and graduation parties which, unfortunately, is also a season for underage drinking. If you want to give us a call, the number is 888-895-KPBS. Marsha, what is Live 2 Graduate?

LYON: Live 2 Graduate is our website, (sic), and we have adopted that as our catch phrase. We created the website as a tool for parents and for other stakeholders to get resources, to learn about statistics, including emergency room discharges and to find out how they can get access to help and what campaigns we have in – that we’re working on right now to help teens stay off alcohol.

FUDGE: Let’s go to Laura in Carmel Valley. Laura, go ahead.

LAURA (Caller, Carmel Valley): Hi. I was calling to find out why you feel that in the case of Alex Capozza, the teenager at Torrey Pines High School, student who was killed in the fall, why the Social Host Ordinance was not enforced in that case. It seemed from reports in the media that there were many, many students at that party who knew who the owners of the home were, who owned the house where Alex got drunk and became inebriated and incapacitated. And that family was never brought to justice, and I think a lot of coastal north county families are galled by that, that this family remains out there, known, and nothing has been done.

FUDGE: Thank you very much. Commander Duke, can you address that question? That comment?

DUKE: Well, I actually can’t because that is within the City of San Diego’s jurisdiction. So I don’t know why they didn’t enforce the Social Host. I know that the sheriff’s department in our area of jurisdictions would have definitely taken a close look at that.

FUDGE: Well, it’s a specific case and I’m afraid I…

DUKE: Right.

FUDGE: …don’t know that much.

DUKE: Yeah, I don’t know…

FUDGE: I don’t know that much about it. Marsha, what would you like to say in response to our caller?

LYON: It was my understanding that the parents were out of town and, you know, I honestly can’t comment on why the police didn’t apply the Social Host Ordinance.

FUDGE: And, well, and I guess we have to keep in mind that the Social Host Ordinance is a misdemeanor and there are limitations on, you know, the extent to which a person can be brought to justice. I mean, whatever might’ve happened to the family certainly wouldn’t have been enough to, you know, answer for the tragedy that occurred after that party. Did you want to add something, Commander Duke?

DUKE: Well, I do know that there is a bill, an Assembly Judiciary Committee bill, that is addressing just that, that will hold parents and – of homes that have parties that there’s alcohol served accountable civilly and it’s called the Teen Alcohol Safety Act, and I believe it’s gotten support and it’s actually on the floor, so it’s about putting parents on notice that they ought to know better than to allow and encourage underage drinking even if they’re not there. So I’m very hopeful that this bill will be passed and will be applied.

FUDGE: And the Social Host Ordinance is not the only thing that law enforcement has at its – has a tool, isn’t that right, Commander Duke?

DUKE: That’s absolutely true. There’s a lot of state laws, too, that I’m certain that San Diego PD applied in their case. Social Host really is a strategy, in my opinion, and it’s a strategy about changing social norm, a social norm.

FUDGE: And in the county or the city of San Diego, I know that there is a law that allows the hosts of parties to be fined quite a bit of money if there’s a noise violation. Is that right?

LYON: The…

FUDGE: Who wants to talk about that?

LYON: The City of San Diego has the administrative citation and that is if a call comes in because of noise, they will go to the house and they have the authority through this citation to apply a thousand dollar fine at that point for the party to disperse and the noise to stop.

FUDGE: Let’s go to Francisco in El Cajon. Francisco, go ahead.

FRANCISCO (Caller, El Cajon): Thanks for taking my call, guys. I think the guests are being a little prudish thinking that we can be in a country where you can turn somebody over at 18, give them a weapon, kill somebody and not let them – or not say it’s okay to have a glass of wine with dinner with the family. I mean, I think the more you tell kids that they can’t do something, the more they want to do it. And so I think that you can responsibly tell your children about alcohol and tell them the responsibilities about it and not keep it away from them, otherwise they’re going to sneak out of the country, go to Mexico, drink at the college parties just to say, yes, we can rebel and we can drink, we can do the things that our parents don’t want us to do.

FUDGE: Well, Francisco, thank you very much. Let’s pick up on one point that he made where he said that the more parents tell their kids not to drink, the more they’re going to want to drink. Marsha, is that correct?

LYON: I think that at an early age parents need to establish ground rules and they need to tell them what the attitudes are about drinking. And the fact is that an adolescent brain doesn’t fully develop until they’re into their twenties. They’re not mature enough to make good decisions before then. They’re vulnerable to peer pressure. They…

FUDGE: What about parental but what about parental pressure because our caller was saying, well, you can tell them not to do it; it’s just going to make them want to do it. How important are the attitudes on the subject of the parents to the child?

LYON: They’re vitally important. And when you talk to your children, listen to them. Let them tell you why they want to drink alcohol. Is it peer pressure? Are they feeling stressed from school? Find out why they think that drinking alcohol would be a fun thing to do.

FUDGE: Commander Duke, when someone under 21 is arrested for a DUI, what do police do to try to determine where they obtained the alcohol? Or is – does that become an issue?

DUKE: It does actually, and we attempt to get that information right at the time of arrest. And, also, ABC has a program and I can’t recall the name of it specifically but where they take that specific case and they go back and they try to determine that point of last drink. I think it’s called ‘something Last Drink.’

FUDGE: Okay. And ABC refers to the Department of Alcohol…

DUKE: …Beverage and Control (sic).

FUDGE: Alcohol Beverage Control…

DUKE: Right.

FUDGE: And if – Depending on what they find out, can others be charged?

DUKE: Well…

FUDGE: In a case like that?

DUKE: Yeah, ABC has their own set of rules and they definitely – we work closely with them at different establishments where they do over-service or, you know, serve to minors. We do a lot of details with them.

FUDGE: Marsha, I think you have some statistics about underage drinkers who wind up in San Diego County emergency rooms after binge drinking. Can you share those with us?

LYON: Yes, in 2008, we found that females ages 12 to 14 have been admitted to the emergency room with a binge drinking diagnosis more than their male counterparts. And 52 more males were admitted in 2008 than 2007, and 59 more females.

FUDGE: And how many of these were – were they high school age? Were they college freshmen? Do you know that?

LYON: Well, 12 to 14 was the female rise in binge drinking and these would be minors.

FUDGE: And, finally, how can parents talk to their children about avoiding drugs and alcohol? Do you have any advice?

LYON: They need to just like sit down with them and listen to what they think about drinking alcohol. Be part of their lives. Support their interest in healthy activities and sports. Get them involved in community service. And stay vigilant, know who their friends are, know their friends’ parents’ attitudes about alcohol, and know where they’re going.

FUDGE: And I – Let me thank my guests. Marsha Lyon is prevention specialist with SAY San Diego. Marsha, thank you very much.

LYON: Thank you very much.

FUDGE: And thanks also to Patty Duke, who is with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office. Thank you, Patty.

DUKE: You’re welcome. Thank you.

FUDGE: And I’m Tom Fudge. You’re listening to These Days. Stay tuned. We’re going to take a break and when we return, Maureen Cavanaugh will be speaking with some people about how common intoxicants like alcohol, tobacco and marijuana affect the body. So stay tuned for that. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

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