Monday’s criminal charges against a Fairfield mother accused of allowing teens to drink alcohol during her daughter’s graduation party have prompted officials and safety advocates to renew calls for public awareness on the issue, especially during the summer.

The woman denies the allegation.

Studies show that, with 1 in 4 teens reporting that they’ve drunk alcohol at parties in front of adults, a significant number of parents are tolerating teen drinking.

Police said the teens who were drinking at the home of Chrystal Mushero on July 12 night also are likely to be charged, and the case remains under investigation. Mushero said she didn’t realize they were sneaking drinks behind her back and that she does not condone underage drinking.

Fairfield Town Manager Josh Reny said he fielded calls from angry parents of children who had attended the party. Reny said he was pleased to see their passion about the issue and their “opposition to what seems to be a growing tolerance of underage drinking in our society.”

In some cases, there is a disconnect between parents and teens about alcohol use.

In Maine, a 2008 statewide survey by the Maine Office of Substance Abuse found that only 21 percent of Maine parents believe their teen has tried alcohol; that same survey showed that 54 percent of Maine teens admitted doing so.

Area police administrators said they sometimes come up against a minority of parents who believe that it’s OK for older children to drink under adult supervision.

“That’s always been a real perplexing issue for me,” said Oakland police Chief Michael Tracy, who was president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association in 2013.

“There are some parents out there that think as long as they’re supervising, the kids are safe,” he said. “The issue has been around forever. There are parents on both sides of the issue, but I think most parents don’t want their minor children drinking at all.”

Police in Oakland and Fairfield partner with officers from Oakland, Waterville, Winslow and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office to collaborate in an underage drinking task force that combats the problem by closing down parties and running undercover operations to try to catch liquor stores or bars selling alcohol to minors.

In a public awareness campaign directed at parents, the task force also paid to put stickers on the boxes of pizzas being sold by local restaurants, warning of the legal and financial consequences of hosting an underage drinking party.

Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey, of the Waterville police, said parents are risking a lot when they turn a blind eye to children drinking booze.

“The adults can be charged with a criminal offense and can also be held liable if one of those kids gets into a vehicle and kills or inures someone in an accident,” he said.

Rumsey said that parents hosting drinking parties are also risking the wrath of the parents of the teens in attendance; those parents may not be happy to learn that another adult was complicit in getting their child drunk.

STATEWIDE PROBLEM

Both statistics and anecdotal evidence suggest lax parenting can contribute to teen drinking.

According to a 2005 survey from the American Medical Association, 1 in 4 teens have attended a party where minors were drinking in front of parents. A similar number said their own parents had given them alcohol.

Underage drinking parties continue to plague central Maine, particularly in the summer, when vacation from school leaves teens in a celebratory mood and with less adult supervision.

In May 2013, a 57-year-old from China was charged with furnishing alcohol to minors after police pulled over a car containing a cooler of beer and three 16-year-old boys. Police said it was en route to a house party at which several juveniles were visibly intoxicated.

The following month, Caryn Savage, 27, of New Sharon, gave two teens alcohol shortly before they crashed a stolen truck on Weeks Mills Road. Savage eventually was sentenced to 21 days in jail and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for her role in the incident.

In January, Waterville police broke up an underage drinking party at a hotel room on Kennedy Memorial Drive; while in April, residents called for parents to be more responsible after 11 Westbrook teenagers were charged with underage drinking at the home of Westbrook High School student athlete Ryan Gilligan, 18, who was charged with furnishing a place for minors to drink.

Parents play a bigger role in whether their children drink than they might think, according to Karen Tucker, a spokesperson for Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, part of the state’s Healthy Maine Partnerships coalition.

Many parents assume that their warnings about drinking alcohol are falling on deaf ears, she said.

“That’s not a correct assumption,” she said. “Kids really do listen to the parents.”

Tucker said research shows that children are less likely to drink if their parents don’t allow drinking; they also are less likely to drink if they think there’s a chance they will be caught.

“They don’t want to disappoint their parents,” she said. “If drinking alcohol means they’re disappointing parents, they’re less likely to do it.”

Tucker helps to run an education program targeted at parents of teens using the slogan “parents who host lose the most.”

The program reminds parents that allowing teens to drink is against the law.

It also reminds young drinkers and parents of the potential consequences, which can include making bad choices, as was the case in November, when a 20-year-old Winslow man was charged with consuming alcohol and other crimes after he shot a BB gun at several passing cars because “he was bored,” according to police.

Tucker said parents should refuse to supply alcohol at teen parties and should network with other parents to be clear about expectations. She said alcohol on the property should be stored in a place that is not accessible and that parents should make sure that party attendees are not bringing alcohol when they arrive.

In order to discourage teen drinking, Tucker said it is a good idea to start early by discussing the issue with children before they are old enough to experiment on their own.

There are positive signs that the culture is shifting, with the number of parents who knowingly tolerate teen drinking in their homes shrinking.

A state survey showed that in 2011, 15 percent of high school students reported that their parents had a favorable attitude toward alcohol use, but by 2013, that number had shrunk to just 7 percent.

In 1980, 93 percent of high school seniors reported that they had consumed alcohol, while in 2010, that number had dropped to 71 percent, according to a recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

Twitter: @hh_matt

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