Survey shows parents engaged, but unaware
DARIEN — Many Darien parents are aware drinking is a problem in town, but are concerned the message about the dangers isn’t reaching the right ears.
As the Community Fund of Darien presented results from a parent survey on substance use, many parents in attendance were concerned the majority of adults in town are allowing teenagers to drink while under their watch.
“You’re preaching to the choir,” said one parent during the question-and-answer session of the Community Fund of Darien’s presentation. “I think a lot of the push needs to be getting parents on board because they’re influencing kids. Everyone here is concerned, but it’s the bigger community not talking.”
The parent survey yielded results on Darien parents’ perception of teen substance use, as well as parents’ role in influencing their teen behavior. Thirty percent of middle and high school parents responded to the survey.
The survey showed parents thought alcohol and marijuana use are less prevalent than they truly are, based on the numbers from a 2014 survey about substance use among town teens. None of the middle school parents thought their children used any substances, and a small number of parents of high school upperclassmen thought their children were using substances.
(For more on how the schools are handling the drinking problem turn to page A9 for “School district will re-examine student substance-use policy.”)
In reality, 2 to 3 percent of middle schoolers reported they smoked marijuana in the past 30 days, and up to 55 percent of high schoolers reported the same use. A majority of high school upperclassmen also reported drinking regularly. A majority of the drinking being done is classified as “binge drinking.”
Most parents believed their children could easily access alcohol at unsupervised drinking parties.
“We moved away from fake ID culture and toward a home setting,” said Allison Johnson, one of the parent volunteers who helped with the survey.
Numbers also showed while most parents know about the social hosting law which can charge parents or homeowners if underage drinking occurs in their home, at least a quarter of parents know their kids drink at home and 7 percent serve minors.
On May 13, Darien police charged two parents on Silver Lakes Drive after discovering a drinking party there with at least six local teenagers who shut down train traffic when they fled toward Metro-North tracks to avoid the police. Recently, Darien police issued a warning reminding parents they can be charged if the police determine they should have known about the drinking occurring at their home.
And while 80 percent of the parents surveyed said they believed they set clear boundaries when it came to substance use and talked to their kids often, the results from teenagers showed those boundaries weren’t so clear.
“There’s an opportunity, we think, for clarifying a lot of these family rules,” Johnson said.
Tara Levinson, a Westport psychologist and Darien parent who helped with the survey, said the results showed parents are involved, but the goal is to get them to model good behavior for their kids and have more conversations about boundaries.
“Across the board, parents are engaged and want to learn more,” she said. “Parents are available, around and committed.”
A recent survey on developmental assets shows Darien teens lack the assets needed to make healthy decision making, particularly when it comes to having adult role models, family boundaries, positive peer influence, self-esteem and planning/decision making. Levinson said in the future, she’d like to see parents of younger children having conversations about what to do in difficult situations, as well as more positive adult role models stepping up.
“This is a conversation that has to occur in the whole community,” she said. “Community problems require community solutions.”
But many of the attendees at the event felt some community members weren’t focused on these issues, citing parents who host parties and other adult role models who encourage underage drinking.
“There’s a lot of parents who feel they need to teach their kids how to drink,” one parent said during the session.
A message from Darien police
At this time of year, the Darien Police Department typically sees an increase in the number of calls for gatherings where minors are possessing and/or consuming alcohol. This increase can be attributed to prom season, the end of the school year, and the return of college students to town. The Darien Police is taking this opportunity to remind parents and homeowners about the criminal and civil consequences of allowing or permitting the possession/consumption of alcohol by minors at their homes.
Various social-host and underage-possession charges can be brought against any parent or homeowner who either actively participates in allowing minors to possess or procure alcohol or even passively allows the possession or consumption to take place. Most people are well aware that allowing minors to drink alcohol in their home is illegal, but many don’t realize that the law allows for criminal charges to be brought in situations where the police have sufficient legal and reasonable cause to believe that parents/property owners should have known that underage drinking is taking place.
An example of this would be allowing your minor child to have twenty of their friends over and for the group to be unsupervised in the basement of the home. If police were summoned to the home, and determined that alcohol was being consumed in the basement by minors, the parents (or the person presently in charge of the property) could be charged if circumstances warrant a police officer to reasonably conclude that the parent or property owner was aware, or should have been aware, of the ongoing alcohol related activity.
The Darien Police suggests taking active steps to assure that any gatherings at your home, where minors are present, are safe, effectively supervised and alcohol free. Checking on gatherings, knowing who’s in your home, and talking with your kids are examples of good first-steps. Taking these proactive measures ensures the safety of your children and their friends, and protects you from the potential criminal and civil consequences of alcohol being present without your knowledge.