A significant reason Alcohol Awareness Month is held in April is because it is the beginning of prom & graduation season, a time when celebrations can turn dangerous for underage drinkers.

Statistics show that Prom-Graduation season, the months of April, May and June is the most dangerous time for teens. One third of all alcohol related traffic offenses and fatalities involving teens each year occur during those months.

Around this time each year, the news is filled with stories of high school students that are tragically killed or seriously injured in situations where alcohol was involved. Often times the alcohol turns out to have been provided by an adult, friend, relative, or parent. With prom, high school graduation, and other summer festivities around the corner, it is important to remind adult community members of the legal consequences of providing alcohol to minors.

This is the time of year when teens who have never tried alcohol may be tempted. Instead of just asking your teen not to drink alcohol, explain how alcohol can affect his or her body. Here are a few ways alcohol can ruin prom night or graduation:

*They may not remember.

Teens spend months preparing for prom and graduation and cherish those memories throughout their lives. But if they drink, there’s a good chance they may not remember any of it. The hippocampus or the area of the brain that stores memory still is maturing in teens. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol can make kids forget what they did or even black-out completely.

*They may do things they don’t want to do.

Alcohol releases inhibitions, and teens who drink may indulge in high risk sexual behavior or drunken driving. The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is involved in planning and decision making, does not completely mature until a person’s mid-to-late 20’s. Using alcohol can further affect and harm a teen’s ability to reason and weigh options that promote bad decision making which lead to grim consequences.

*They may get really sick.

Who wants to spend prom night throwing up or so dizzy he or she can’t dance? Alcohol can irritate the stomach, causing dehydration which often leads to vomiting and dizziness. Throwing up also may be a sign of alcohol poisoning, which causes body systems to break down and requires immediate medical care.

It is no secret to us that many children under 21 years old are drinking. It is therefore critical that parents keep the lines of communication open when it comes to talking to their kids about the dangers of underage drinking and drunk driving.

Why should parents be concerned?

Alcohol use by teens leads to many costly consequences, all of them preventable. Underage alcohol use is related to traffic crashes, crime, teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, suicides, drowning, and poor performance in school.

Parents can prevent alcohol use by following these tips:

*Never buy alcohol for your teen, their friends or anyone under 21.

*Do not allow your teen to have parties with alcohol on your property.

*Network with other parents, and let them know that you do not want alcohol available.

*Tell your teen that it is against the family rules for them to drink alcohol.

*Talk and listen to your children. Be straightforward and honest with them about the real impact of alcohol.

*If you as an adult choose to use alcohol, use it responsibly. Remember, you are your children’s role model.

*Let law enforcement know about any establishments or people providing alcohol to anyone under 21.

Some parents are of the view that “kids are going to drink anyway, so I’d rather have them do it at my house where I can keep an eye on them.” However, the only people under age 21 that you can legally give alcohol to are your own children, under your supervision, in your own home. If death or injury does occur, you are also likely to be held civilly liable for any damages that result from the underage intoxication. Everyone 21 and older should also be aware of the legal consequences for providing alcohol to minors. In Minnesota, the sole act of providing alcohol to a person less than 21 years of age is a gross misdemeanor. The penalty for a gross misdemeanor is up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $3,000. The penalty for providing alcohol to a person under 21 years of age increases to a felony, if that minor person becomes intoxicated and causes or suffers death or great bodily harm. Jail sentences for this felony offense will depend on the Defendant’s prior criminal history and other factors. In addition to criminal penalties, an adult who provides alcohol to minors could be civil liability for any damages that result from the underage intoxication.

Providing alcohol to minors is illegal, unsafe, and not worth the risks. Please express to your daughter or son your concern that they stay safe and not use alcohol or other substances. Here’s to a safe and sober graduation season.

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