In Maryland, teenage drinking parties have become a hotly-debated topic after some newspapers published a vivid photograph in which Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) is seen at a high school graduation party that his son was attending in June at a beach house in Delaware, writes Donna St. George of The Washington Post.
The photograph shows that Gansler is walking through a throng of teen revelers at a party held at a rented beach house where his son was the DJ. Three teens are dancing on a table. At least one red plastic cup is in view. According to Gansler, the red cups at the party might have contained Kool-Aid but probably contained beer.
After graduation, many seniors visit Maryland and Delaware shore towns for "Beach Week." The Beach Week tradition is deeply rooted at many of the region's schools. Groups of friends rent a house together. Some parents supervise; some don't. Many parents ask students to sign contracts banning certain behaviors and outlining expectations.
Gansler — Maryland's top law enforcement officer — has admitted that he did nothing to stop the apparent underage drinking at the house. He has described his inaction as a mistake.
But Gansler also invoked the conflicts of parenthood: "How much do you let them go? How much do you rein them in?" He said he was "no different from any other parent." Some parents understand his conundrum, but all parents don't see it the same way.
Some parents said kids need rules that don't bend, while others say many high schoolers are going to drink anyway and might as well do it with the benefit of parental supervision. Many parents believe that their teens should not try something illegal.
"I would have ended the party," said Deidra Speight, a mother of four in Upper Marlboro, Md. "Absolutely. Just think: If something would have happened, it could have been horrible. I don't think he was thinking of that." Speight added: "I always feel like parents are responsible. Period. End of story. As soon as you figure it out, you need to fix it."
According to Takoma Park parent Jeffrey Hopkins, parents should allow teens to celebrate after a successful graduation from high school. They should be given a reward for the success. "But at the same time, you realize there's real risk there."
Hopkins said he has asked himself what he would have done in Gansler's situation and admits that it's hard to be sure. But if Gansler knew of underage drinking, he would intervene.
At first, Gansler had told the Baltimore Sun, which first reported the story, that even if there was widespread drinking at the party, its relevance was questionable. "The question is, do I have any moral authority over other people's children at Beach Week in another state?" he was quoted saying. "I say no."
Gansler said neither he nor his son drank at the party.
Burkinshaw, the mom from Germantown and co-chair of the health and safety committee of the countywide PTA, said that a parent would ask partygoers how old they are and what they are drinking — and end the festivities if laws were being broken.