Parents should be more involved in preventing teenage drunk driving

Editorial

Victims of burglaries or violent crimes have long complained that police are never around when you need them, that they seem to be too occupied addressing victimless crimes or that they too often have to play babysitter to unsupervised youth who are creating a nuisance.

One case in point in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley is the popular trend among young people to cross into Mexico to have a good time. Lower drinking ages and lax enforcement allows people in their mid- to upper teens to buy alcohol at nightclubs and liquor stores across the river.

Many people along the border consider party trips into Mexico as a rite of passage of sorts.

Unfortunately, for too many young residents it’s a passage to the slammer — or worse, if they are involved in drunken-driving accidents on the way home. For that reason, law enforcement agencies all along the border have seen the need to post officers on bridges to intercept people who are crossing back into the United States after having too much to drink.

They will be the first to say they wish they didn’t have to spend so much time, and so much tax money, protecting irresponsible youth from themselves.

Meanwhile, jails in Texas — and elsewhere — are overcrowded, with many people sitting in cells over nonviolent crimes.

Solution: A group called the Rio Grande Partnership has pushed a proposal under which officers who detain first-time underage drinkers wouldn’t haul them off to detention centers. Instead they would call their parents to come pick them up.

Proponents say that often, a ride home with an angry parent would be worse, but more appropriate, punishment than sitting in a drunk tank with friends who were arrested together. The supporters say this policy would be more effective and less costly for taxpayers.

Some say all it takes is one time to scare many young people into showing more maturity, and calling parents would enable many otherwise good kids to avoid criminal records that could come back to haunt them later in life.

This seems a reasonable way to address the problem of underage drinking. Many young people simply make bad decisions because of their youth and lack of experience; that’s the reasoning behind our entire juvenile system. Many are influenced by their peers, and don’t have enough parental supervision.

It’s true that some parents don’t care about their children. More often, however, the parents simply don’t know what their children are doing, or give them more trust than they are ready for. Getting a call to come pick up a drunken teen could be an effective, and valuable, wake-up call for both the child and the parent.

It’s also worth noting that while any person, of any age, who drives drunk should be taken off the road, those who are merely passengers are putting no one at risk other than themselves. Is the time, trouble and expense incurred by law enforcement agencies worth it?

Most people, we assume, would agree that it isn’t. Besides, the primary obligation to prepare our children for the responsibilities of adult life lies with parents. Thus, it seems appropriate that the first instance of a teenager’s public intoxication be addressed by his or her parents.

If parents take their responsibility to heart, teens won’t be getting off lightly by avoiding jail. Allowing police to call the parents when they find the teens drunk helps the parents be more involved, at least in this case, and puts the onus where it belongs.

The idea deserves a chance.