Are Parents Held Accountable for “Social Hosting” ?

It’s well-known that the legal drinking age in all states, including Massachusetts, is 21. However, what about “social hosting”? Social hosting refers to providing alcohol or other illegal substances to a minor that is not your own child on your property or in an environment you control. Especially during graduation time, some parents reason if they provide alcohol at a party at their private residence in a safe environment, ensuring that minors do not drink and drive, they are not committing a crime. Massachusetts’ “Social Host” law says that they are. Consider the consequences and situations covered by this law.

  • You could pay fines and go to jail. The penalty in Massachusetts for “social hosting” is a fine up to $2,000 and/or prison time for up to one year. Of course, if injury occurred, such as if a child died in an accident after leaving your home, you could be convicted of more serious crimes, resulting in a longer prison sentence.

  • You could pay civil penalties as well. Providing alcohol to minors makes you liable for their actions. You could be sued for millions of dollars if that child injuries himself or another person after consuming the alcohol you provided. Since homeowner’s insurance will often not cover injuries as a result of criminal activity, you may be personally responsible for financial damages.
  • It’s about providing a location, not just the alcohol. What if minors bring their own alcohol that was provided by another adult? You are liable for providing a location, whether it’s your personal property or not, where minors can consume alcohol or drugs without being found out by their parents or authorities. Simply turning a blind eye is a crime.

There are obvious moral reasons for not facilitating underage drinking or substance abuse. It can cause injury or death to the participants and it leaves the perception that recreational substance abuse is an accepted and normal part of life, a perception that can cause lasting damage for your child and the others involved. In Massachusetts, refraining from “social hosting” is about more than a moral obligation. It’s a legal obligation.