Twenty-three states have “social host” laws targeting adults who allow underage drinking in their homes, and 33 states have some form of civil liability laws, says U.S. News & World Report. Although teen drinking rates have fallen significantly over the past few decades, they remain disturbingly high: More than 40 percent of college students say they binge drink. And at more than 5,000 a year, alcohol-related fatalities remain the leading cause of death among teens.
Two thirds of teens get their booze from adults. Some parents provide it deliberately, believing that if they condone it in moderation, their children will be less likely to abuse it. Advocates of the liability laws take the opposite view. Stricter parental liability, they say, can reverse society’s tacit acceptance of underage drinking just as tougher laws have changed the public’s attitude toward drunk driving. Says Richard Bonnie, a law professor at the University of Virginia: “We’re not going to change social norms among kids if we don’t change social norms among parents.” There is no research on whether social host laws are effective, and most adults arrested under them are siblings or friends in their 20s. It is clear the penalties are falling harder on parents.