In Los Gatos, they're going to be holding workshops and conducting a survey of students, parents, and teachers about alcohol and drug use, and try to show kids that most of their peers aren't drinking or doing drugs as much as they may think.
The town of Los Gatos was, clearly, rocked by the 2020-21 "party mom" case involving a mother of two teen sons who threw alcohol-fueled parties at which she allegedly allowed kids to drink very heavily and get in sexually problematic situations. And after the mom in question, Shannon O'Connor, was arrested and put in jail — she remains awaiting trial after rejecting a plea deal for 17 years — the town responded by trying to combat this type of behavior by parents generally.
It's called a "social host" ordinance, and other cities around the country have them. Passed in the spring of 2022, Los Gatos' ordinance holds parents and guardians liable for any social gatherings that their teens might host on their property; and it further holds them liable for fines if they knowingly allow underage drinking or drug-use on their property, or if they provide such substances, like O'Connor did.
Since the law took effect a year ago, as Bay Area News Group reports, there have been "at least three" violations by parents in which they were reportedly cited. And now Los Gatos is taking things further by "partnering" — a.k.a. hiring — something called The Montana Institute, a group founded by Dr. Jeff Linkenbach who espouses something called The Science of the Positive, and consults with communities about issues like youth drinking.
The Los Gatos Unified School District and the town are paying a total of $56,000 for the consulting services of the Montana Institute, which will include surveys and workshops — with the goal being to "change community norms," as Linkenbach puts it, and the institute claims to be "transforming cultures to create healthier, safer communities."
The institute says that when students are surveyed in other parts of the country, they often over-estimate how much their peers are drinking or, say, using cannabis. And this misperception itself leads to more substance use, because kids feel like they're missing out on something most of their peers are doing.
It sounds from the Bay Area News Group report like this may be more for the parents, though, and they want to get them to buy in and go to workshops to learn that being the "cool" mom or dad and condoning safe drinking at home doesn't necessarily create better habits later — the Montana Institute claims to have data supporting the opposite.
"Parents in more affluent communities kind of are friends with their kids, or want to be friends with their kids or want to be seen as cool and are kind of worried that if they say no too much, their kids are going to somehow go off the deep end," says Linda Richter, senior vice president at the Partnership to End Addiction, speaking to Bay Area News Group. "And the fact is that… young people really do better with some boundaries and limitations. And when there aren’t any, they don’t feel safe and secure."
Richter's group also cites the fact that of 24 communities surveyed in California, minors tended to drink less in places that have these "social host" ordinances.
All of this, data-wise, feels a bit soft and questionable — but sure, kids need rules!
But will there be another "party mom" case to prove the point? Or is all of this a bit of panic over the egregious actions of one very permissive — and likely rather troubled — parent?
Anyway, we may learn more after these expensive surveys are complete.
Photo: Timothy Dykes