Written by: Dr. Brian Hoeflinger
I often wonder how to get someone to care about a topic that has no real meaning to them. Why should anyone care about something that doesn’t directly pertain to their life? I think the answer must lie in the personal and emotional connection to the topic. Then how do I make the personal connection for you, the reader, so it becomes real and meaningful to you. Let me try by telling you a tragic story of a bright young man who lost his life over a bad decision. And as you read, try to imagine this as if it were your own child. His name is Brian Nicholas Hoeflinger and he is my son now frozen in time at the age of 18.
Brian was a teenager just like every other teenager and he liked to hang out with friends and have fun. He was a scratch golfer, carried a 4.5 GPA throughout high school, and scored a 32 on his ACT. My son Brian would have seemed to have everything going his way. He had just turned 18, was to graduate from high school in 3 months and couldn’t wait to go off to college and start his brand new life. But one day, he and 2 of his underage friends decided to walk into a state liquor store where they were able to buy a large bottle of Belvedere vodka without being carded. That same bottle of vodka was then taken to a party in a friends basement later that night where he and about 10-15 other teenagers drank alcohol. And wouldn’t you know it, both parents were home upstairs in the house. Two hours later, my son was able to walk out of that house drunk, get into his car and drive away with his seat belt on. Several minutes later, he struck a tree at high speed in our neighborhood about a mile from our house and died of horrific bodily injuries. The story of Brian’s life ended that cold Friday night in early February 2013 exemplifying the harsh reality of teenage drinking. And worst of all, we as parents did not know that Brian was drinking. I wrote a book titled, “The Night He Died: The Harsh Reality of Teenage Drinking”. If you would like to learn how this could happen to you and to gain a better perspective into the pain and reality of such an incident, then read the first few chapters of my book. I assure you that it will change your perspective on life and on teenage drinking forever.
Now picture yourself, your family, your life for a moment and then picture your son or daughter going to a party and you not being there to know what is occurring. Could you say with certainty what they are doing at the party? But then you set your mind at ease knowing that the parents are home. What can happen with the parents in the house, right? Well I just gave you my real life story of what can happen and it can happen to anybody, any family and at any time. No one is immune to this nightmare we are living. There is no warning! No one calls you to forewarn you or stop it from happening. Your child is out there with their friends doing what they want and you are not there to keep an eye on them or stop them from doing it. But should the parents who are there with your children be at all responsible to keep an eye on things for you? That is the real question that needs to be addressed. Because without parental or adult supervision, kids will be kids and they are going to do what ever they can get away with. And with alcohol being such a norm for kids today, most teenagers are going to drink and get drunk at some point when no one is there to stop them.
So how can you possibly avoid such a tragedy in the first place. Should we trust our children not to drink? And if they do drink, will they only drink a little and will they be responsible about it? I would ask you, do the words responsible and teenage drinking go together? Teenagers drink to get drunk! They do not casually drink a beer or sip a vodka on the rocks as an adult might. They play drinking games and chug shot after shot of alcohol until they are quickly drunk. Once drunk, your child can no longer be responsible to make good decisions. The alcohol is making the decisions at that point. So who then will be the responsible person to keep an eye on your child when your not there? Do you feel completely confident that your child will make the right choices, especially not to drink too much in the face of peer pressure from their friends? I thought that I knew my son extremely well. I completely trusted him to make good decisions because he was always an extremely responsible and reliable person. And even beyond that, Brian seemed to be against drinking and he never seemed to give into peer pressure. But the night he died, he chose to drink alcohol. He drank with his friends, became drunk and made a bad decision to drive. That one terrible decision while he was drunk cost him his life. So as you can see, it’s not so much about trusting your child not to drink because the majority of teenagers will at some point. Statistics clearly bear this fact out. And it’s not about making good decisions while they are drinking, because they can’t. There is no such thing as a teenager drinking just a little bit of alcohol and still being able to make good choices.
So what’s the answer? I believe that the answer lies in changing the status quo. One effective way to start this process is by changing the Social Host Law. This law is in place to encourage parents and other adults to stop underage kids from drinking alcohol. In general, the law is meant to protect your kids from parents or other adults who allow underage drinking in their home or establishment. The law is not meant to punish parents for having their child’s friends over but it is meant to deter underage drinking from happening. As a parent, you should want to know that your child is following your rules that you have set in place for them and not the rules that another parent has set for their own children. In other words, you don’t want another parent to decide if its OK for your teenager to drink alcohol or not. That decision should be yours alone.
The “free will” of some parents to allow your children to drink can be diminished by amending the current Social Host Law in Ohio. The way the current law is written, a parent or other adult has to knowingly acknowledge that they provided alcohol to minors or allowed underage drinking to occur on their premises to be held accountable for their actions. They basically have to admit guilt. But if the parent simply states, “I didn’t know that the kids were drinking”, then by law, they are released of all responsibility. As the current law stands, there is no real motivation or incentive for a parent or other adult to stop your teenagers from drinking if they can plead ignorance and be released from all responsibility.
I know that the first response from many parents to changing the law might be, “What if this parent were me and I truly didn’t know the kids were drinking in my home. Will I get in trouble?” Or “What is to prevent me from being prosecuted unfairly or unjustly if kids are caught drinking in my house without my knowledge?” These are very valid questions. The answer is that the law does not hold parents who are vigilant responsible. If you as the parent go and check on the kids periodically and make an effort to keep a casual eye on things, then you are safe in the eyes of the law and are not held responsible for the kids who sneak the alcohol in under your watch without your knowledge. But if the kids are drinking and you have reasonable suspicion, but do nothing, then that is a different story. The law is primarily meant to protect you and your children from parents and adults who clearly allow or choose to ignore underage drinking.
Many parents may suspect underage drinking but do nothing about it. This is usually for one of two reasons. The first reason being that they may not want to know or are afraid what they may find. The second reason is because the kids tend to make you feel uncomfortable and unwelcome to check on them. It often becomes awkward to check on a group of teenagers because they know how to make you feel as though you are invading their privacy. But remember, there may be a reason why they don’t want you to check on them: Because they are drinking without your knowledge. Then why as a parent should you not check on a gathering of minors in your home? Wouldn’t you want other parents to do the same if your child were at their house? If we can’t ask parents to be responsible to check on our children periodically to make sure they are not drinking and especially not getting drunk, then you and your family will always be at risk of experiencing a life altering tragedy such as ours.
The parents at the house the night of my sons death stated that they were sleeping upstairs and did not ever interact with the kids or go down into the basement to check on them. A group of 10-15 teenagers ranging from 16 to 18 years of age gathered in a basement. Shouldn’t an adult at home at least suspect the possibility of drinking when statistics show that the majority of teenagers in this country have drank alcohol by the end of high school? Basically, one could say it was a free for all for the kids that night to do what they wanted in a home where no parent was supervising or bothering them. Is this where you would want your kids to be?
We didn’t find out about the drinking at this house and the lack of parental supervision until it was too late and our precious son Brian was dead. This is where the amended Social Host law could help change the status quo. Now is your chance to help change things for the better so you or someone close to you never has to go through what we have as a family.
Please stop for just a moment and really try to imagine what it would feel like if one of your children were to die or be permanently injured. A lifetime of hopes and dreams gone in an instant; an instant in time that you can never take back once it has happened. To wake up each morning knowing that your son or daughter is dead and that you will never be able to see or speak to them again. The thought should be horrifying! If only for one moment I could make you feel what we have felt after losing our son Brian, then you would fully realize the importance of teenage drinking as a problem. By improving upon the current Social Host Law, we can start to further protect our children from the ready availability and harming effects of alcohol.
Under current Ohio law, prosecutors and law enforcement agents must prove that an adult “knowingly” provided alcohol to underage drinkers or “knowingly” allowed drinking on their premises. The amendment to the current Social Host law would change the word “knowingly” to “knows” or “should know”. This small change in wording would necessitate that all parents and other adults at least consider the possibility of drinking when there is a gathering of minors in their home. No longer would pleading ignorance be an acceptable excuse. Remember, this change is to protect your children when your not there to do so. Parents need to be aware of the serious consequences when permitting underage drinking in their home or on their property. The penalty by law for providing alcohol to a person younger than 21 is six months in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine.
Too many parents think it is OK to let minors drink in their home. They think that drinking is a rite of passage for young people and letting them drink now will somehow better prepare them for the future. But for too many teenagers, the future is taken away by alcohol because a parent thought it would be OK for them to drink. Let’s face it, teenagers cannot be expected to control how much alcohol they drink because it is not in their nature. Their brains are not fully developed and they can’t make good decisions regarding alcohol at their young age. Again, teenagers Drink to get Drunk! That is where the fun in drinking is for teenagers. We as parents need to help them make better decisions and take that particular choice away from them. There needs to be consequences that are clearly spelled out and understood by everyone. Parents need to know that simply saying, “I did not know about it” will not work anymore. I hope after reading this post, all of you will take this appeal to heart and help change the Social Host law for the better.
Having as many supporters as possible will help as we approach the House and Senate by showing them that people in Ohio want to see change, starting with a change to the Social Host law. Let’s learn from my son’s death and put a stop to parents who allow or ignore underage drinking. Please show your support by sharing this post and signing our petition for positive change. Here is the link to the petition:
Remember, the Social Host law is in place to help protect your children and to potentially save your child’s life. I only say this from personal experience. Please get involved now before it’s too late.
Please sign the petition