Seen in: The Daily Gazette
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For many kids, exposure to alcohol at a young age can be a harbinger of other problems

What’s the big deal?

The kids were all in the house. They were safe. They weren’t out running the streets causing trouble. They weren’t doing hard drugs.

So what’s the problem when adults condone underage drinking in their home?

That’s the question a lot of people might be asking following the arrest of a Wilton couple and their 20-year-old son for hosting an underage drinking party on New Year’s Eve.

In all, about a dozen kids age 17-20 were at the party, where the adults supplied the alcohol, the venue and the alibi.

In the wake of the opioid epidemic, bullying, distracted driving, the dangers associated with social media, and other issues facing teenagers these days, it would be easy to push underage drinking to the bottom of the worry pile.

But underage drinking is now, just as it was a decade ago and decades before that, a pervasive problem in our society that we can’t afford to stop taking seriously.

According to the Prevention Council — a Saratoga Springs-based nonprofit organization that works to prevent alcohol, drug and other substance abuse — alcohol remains the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States.

Each year in the U.S., more than 4,300 people die as a result of underage drinking — either through motor vehicle accidents, suicide and homicide, and accidental overdose.

When parents condone or — in the Wilton case — encourage and support underage drinking, they’re contributing to the damaging effects that alcohol has both immediately and in the long-term on children who are too young to handle it.

According to the Prevention Council, 11 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the United States is by underage drinkers, age 12-20.

Within any 30-day period, more than a quarter of kids will consume alcohol and more than 17 percent of that group will binge drink, which can lead to alcohol poisoning and other issues.

Drinking, especially by youth, can contribute to a whole host of health and social issues, including poor attendance and performance in school; dangerous and inappropriate decisions due to behavioral issues; problems with memory and thinking; depression; low-self esteem and in some cases suicide.

Young women and girls in particular can often find themselves in dangerous situations due to alcohol use that can lead to rape and sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.

While kids today seem to be more cognizant of the dangers of drunk driving and have more means than older generations to get home safely, such as ride-sharing and cabs, many kids still make the bad judgment of drinking and driving. And when kids do it, they’re often distracted by friends in the car and their phones, which can make their adventures on the road even more dangerous to themselves, their passengers and other motorists.

For many kids, exposure to alcohol at a young age can be a harbinger of other problems, including abuse of tobacco and drugs and alcohol-dependency as adults.

When parents support their children’s drinking by hosting parties for them and their friends, it sends the message that there’s no harm in what they’re doing.

That potential harm is the precise reason why we place age limits on alcohol and tobacco consumption in the first place.

But if parents and other adults — the people who have direct contact and influence with children — don’t understand or respect the problems that alcohol use among young people can cause, then the threat to our children’s health and well-being will continue and get worse.

Underage drinking was and is still a serious problem.

We need to continue to take it seriously and to do what we can, starting in our own households, to stop it.