By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
Allowing teenagers to drink alcohol, even in the safety of their own home, is “killing them with kindness,” according to Doug Wentz, a drug and alcohol counselor who spoke at the Brookfield Township trustees meeting Monday.
As part of an ongoing effort to promote Brookfield as a drug-free community, Trustee Gary Lees asked Wentz to update residents, particularly those hosting graduation parties in the coming weeks, about the dangers of allowing teenagers to drink.
“Today, across the country, 9,000 teens will drink for the first time. And that’s scary because children are not social drinkers. They don’t just have a beer with their pizza. They drink to get drunk,” he said. Most start by drinking beer, he said, but some start with wine and hard liquor as well.
“It’s a $3 billion industry to serve alcohol to youth. The message to drink responsibly is ambiguous at best,” he added.
Moves are underway, Wentz said, to change the language in the Ohio Revised Code that would allow prosecution of those who are “negligible” in providing alcohol to anyone under age 21 instead of the current wording of “knowingly.”
His hope, he said, is that all the tragedies associated with underage drinking such as homicide, suicide, drownings, fires and car crashes can be averted.
“If even one parent understands this, well, that’s what we’re hoping. Awareness saves lives.”
A report by the Drug-Free Action Alliance shows 29 percent of parents and teens know of parents who host teen alcohol parties, and 25 percent of teenagers have attended a party in the last two months where alcohol was served.
Penalties for those charged with providing alcohol to teenagers can be $1,000 fine and six months in jail. “And of course if there is an injury or death, the parents face all the civil penalties as well,” he added.
In most cases, he said, parents think they are doing the right thing by allowing the children to drink at home. “They think they’re being nice. Well, that niceness is killing them. It’s been shown that our brains aren’t really even fully developed until we’re about 25. The frontal lobes aren’t done growing, so even if they wanted to, children can’t really make the best decisions,” he said.
Other Ohio townships have passed resolutions and ordinances calling for the change, Wentz said, and he is hopeful state legislators will join in. Efforts nearly succeeded five years ago, he said, but there was significant “push back” from landlords who rented to college students.
“They didn’t want to be held accountable,” he said.
Police Chief Dan Faustino said 14 teenagers were charged with underage drinking in May and said he has instructed his patrolmen to “aggressively” monitor underage drinking at parties.
Trustees voted unanimously to join and donate $50 to the Drug-Free Action Alliance.
Lees said he plans to contact school officials and ask them to participate as well.