What is very often a private conversation behind closed doors between parent and erring adolescent became fodder for broader debate this week as the public parsed the most recent controversy surrounding Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D).
In a vivid photograph published Thursday, Gansler is shown 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 table. At least one red plastic cup is in view. Gansler said at a news conference that the red cups at the party might have contained Kool-Aid but probably contained beer.
Gansler has acknowledged that he did nothing to stop the apparent underage drinking at the house.
A month into a campaign for governor, Gansler — 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 all right, 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. I don’t think he was thinking of that.”
Added Speight: “I always feel like parents are responsible. Period. End of story. As soon as you figure it out, you need to fix it.”
Not every parent navigates the experimentation of the teen years the same way. Some parents say kids need rules that don’t bend. Others say many high schoolers are going to drink anyway and might as well do it with the benefit of parental supervision. Still others don’t think that their teens would try something illegal.
Gansler’s moment of decision in South Bethany, Del., came June 13 at a party after his son had just graduated from the Landon School in Bethesda. Locally, many seniors cut loose after graduation with trips to Maryland and Delaware shore towns for “Beach Week.”
Takoma Park parent Jeffrey Hopkins, whose daughter went to Beach Week in 2012, said many parents are torn about the celebration. “You want to give them freedom,” he said. “You want to reward them for a successful graduation from high school. But at the same time, you realize there’s real risk there.”