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Are You a Toxic Parent?

(Timothy Devine)

parenting by saying, "Why should I pretend I have control over the kids when I know they're going off to college in a year?"

These two sets of parents rarely speak to one another. When they do, the results can be ugly.

Ginny Walter is a mother in Potomac whose two children are beyond high school but who found herself on the receiving end of a torrent of parental wrath back when her teenage daughter was going through a rough time with drinking and drugs. "There's this one-upmanship by parents who think they're better than you because their kids aren't in trouble," Walter says. The culminating

moment: "My daughter's best friend's mother called and said, 'My daughter can't be friends with your daughter ever again, can't ever talk to her again.' She found out something and decided my daughter was the one influencing her daughter. She wouldn't tell me why, wouldn't talk to me about it -- ever."

As a society, we not only seek to punish "bad" kids but to find the parents who produced them and hold those adults responsible. As of this month, a new law in Virginia makes parents liable for

allowing teens to consume alcohol in or near their homes. In Montgomery, police have established a squad of officers who do nothing but track down teenage bacchanals. The kids get cited and fined, but it's the parents who host the parties who are exposed to the harshest penalties. In Maryland, parents can be fined $1,000 for each underage drinker attending a party at their house.

For those who find pleasure in identifying toxic parents, the party patrol is a thrilling place to start.

GARY FINCH AND I ARE IN A POLICE SQUAD CAR, roaring up Interstate 270 late on a Saturday night. The radio has been crackling about a party in Germantown. High school kids, noise, drinking -- it's the holy trinity of the party police. Adrenaline pumping, we're off.

Finch, a former dot-commer who left the corporate marketing biz to become a police officer, is one of the youngest guys on party patrol (official name: Alcohol Enforcement Unit). He and his wife live in Hagerstown and have four boys, ranging in age from 1 to 11. Finch, 36, is under no illusion that the people whose Saturday nights he turns upside down are completely different from his own family. "I'm not going to sit here and say my kids will never do this," he says. "But there are parents who try to be responsible, and there are parents who choose to be blind to the whole thing."

Kids usually cooperate with the party busters. The trouble most often comes from parents, who are quick to blame one another. The party police frequently meet parents who barge onto the scene with their lawyer already on the cellphone, directing the kids not to give officers their address. Or the parents -- usually fathers -- confront the cops with the names of county bigwigs who are allegedly family friends. Many parents are miffed by the interruption of their evening. "A lot of these parents can't wait till their kids are 16 so the kids can drive and the parents can get their romantic lives back," Finch says.

And if the host parents are around when the other mothers and fathers arrive to fetch their drunken offspring, watch out. The party police busted one bash in Kentlands where the mother was in her bedroom, door shut, supposedly oblivious to the fact that in the bedroom at the end of the hall, six kids were well into an intimate evening with two 30-packs of Coors beer. After the police confronted the mother with the party down the hall -- she was cited by police for hosting an underage drinking affair -- the other parents arrived to pick up their teenagers. The police informed one mom that her daughter had been drinking and that, by the way, when the officers arrived, she was wearing only boxers and a bra. Hearing about her daughter's state of dress set off the mother. She turned to the party host and said: "What kind of mother are you? What the hell is wrong with you?"

Officers had to separate the women.

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