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Underage drinking discouraged

Posted: April 18, 2015 - 11:15pm

Rachel Lehnardt was arrested after police said she allowed her 16-year-old daughter and her teenage friends to consume alcohol and marijuana at her Evans home.

She was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor.

But county officials say the problem of parents allowing teens to drink or use other illegal substances in their homes is more widespread than one might think. During prom and graduation season, some parents even host parties for their teens.

“We have had situations in the past where parents will host parties for teenagers in order to consume alcohol,” Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said. “And they justify that usually by saying at least they know where they are at.”

But the decision to serve alcohol to teens or simply allow them to drink in the home can bring trouble for the adults.

In 2014, 10 people were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor in Columbia County. Already three have been charged with it this year.

“It’s not widespread, but it does occur,” Morris said. “It does occur. It has occurred. We caution (parents) and ask that they refrain from doing that.”

In addition to criminal ramifications, Morris said so much risk goes along with allowing such behavior.

Teens can consume too much alcohol and they can have accidents caused or exacerbated by alcohol among many other scenarios.

“There’s a lot of liability,” Morris said of parents allowing teenage drinking, especially if those drinking teens end up behind the wheel of a vehicle.

More than 86 percent of Columbia County high school students who drink alcohol say they drank it at home or at a friend’s and the parents were not aware, according to Tamica Collins, the coordinator of the Underage Drinking Prevention Campaign at Columbia County Community Connections. The average age the student took the first drink is 13.

She also said 66 percent of county high school students say it is easy to get alcohol.

Drinking alcohol at a young age is not only illegal, but can damage the long- and short-term growth process of developing adolescent brains. It also can lead to dangerous activities such as drugs and sex.

“Drinking alcohol often leads to poor decision-making and makes it more likely for teens to engage in other high-risk behaviors,”’ according to Collins.

Early drinking also can lead to adult alcoholism.

Collins said parents are a strong influence in a teen’s decision to drink alcohol or not. Her goal is to encourage parents to talk to their children about the dangers of underage drinking, which helps reduce the risk they will do it.

Community Connections run several campaigns aimed at underage drinking prevention including Parents who Host, Lose the Most; Sticker Shock Campaign, where the Columbia County Youth Action Team puts stickers on alcoholic beverage sin stores explaining the legal penalties of providing alcohol to minors; and Safe Homes, an online database, where parents can pledge not to provide alcohol to minors and vow to keep their homes free of underage drinking.

Collins also speaks at area high school about the risks of underage drinking and how to handle peer pressure.

Morris said parents are legally allowed to provide alcohol to their own child in their own home, but not to any other minors and not outside of the family home.

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