Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Walking a Tightrope on Teen Drinking Md. Attorney General Faced Parental Test

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Walking a Tightrope on Teen Drinking Md. Attorney General Faced Parental Test

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- It's one of the fault lines of modern parenting: What do you do when you stumble into a teenage drinking party? Look the other way? Shut it down? Call the police?

Susan Burkinshaw, a PTA mom from Germantown, Md., admits that she would want to close her eyes, plug her ears and back right out the door. "I think that's what we would all want to do, but that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do," she says, urging parental courage.

What is very often a private conversation behind closed doors between parent and erring adolescent became fodder for broader debate last week as a highly interested public parsed the most recent controversy surrounding Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler.

In a vivid photograph published Thursday, Mr. Gansler is pictured 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 tabletop. At least one red plastic cup is in view. Mr. Gansler said at a news conference that the red cups at the party might have contained Kool-Aid but probably contained beer.

Mr. Gansler has acknowledged that he did nothing to stop the apparent underage drinking at the house.

A month into his campaign to seek the Democratic nomination for governor, Mr. Gansler -- who is Maryland's top law enforcement officer -- has described his inaction as a mistake. But he 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, having grown up in the 1970s and 1980s and recalling all too clearly their experiences with teen parties. They turned out OK, the thinking goes. And how wrong can it be to look past some transgressions, especially just months before kids head off to college?

All parents don't see it the same way.

"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. …

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