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Don't accept teen drinking in your home

The hearts of Georgians go out to the Mark Taylor family in the face of the fatal wreck in which his son was driving. The death of a young person is always difficult to accept, and the grief is compounded when it comes at what appears to be the result of alcohol use.

The charge of felony DUI filed in South Carolina against 21-year-old Fletcher Taylor, whose friend died in the one-vehicle accident, would be a nightmare for any family. A conviction on the charge requires at least a year in prison.

No doubt, many parents shuddered upon hearing of the wreck that occurred in Charleston, knowing that the call from authorities could have been about their own child.

It's a fact parents don't have total control over their children, especially after they enter college. But the agony of this heartbreaking situation is a strong reminder of parents' responsibility to try to protect their children. The best protection is to start talking with them at an early age about making choices and the possible consequences of bad ones.

Alcohol and youth are a fatal combination. Underage alcohol use, says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is "more likely to kill young people than all illegal drugs combined."

Parents warn toddlers about fire. Children are told to stay away from fire because it can be dangerous. They are sternly disciplined when found playing with fire.

However, when it comes to use of alcohol, many parents fail to deliver that same warning. Some parents dismiss underage drinking as simply part of growing up. Others supply their children with alcohol and allow them to party at home. Why some parents feel underage drinking is a rite of passage is a mystery. Fire is no more dangerous for young children than use of alcohol is for teenagers.

Health.org, a Web site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tells teens:

Alcohol affects your brain. Alcohol affects your body. Alcohol affects your self-control. Alcohol can kill you. Alcohol can hurt you - even if you're not the one drinking.

Although drinking is not legal until age 21, studies show the average American consumes alcohol for the first time at age 14. And binge drinking has become commonplace on college campuses. Both are shocking.

Parents' casual reaction to underage drinking undermines any message youths hear as to the dangers. Many kids survive underage drinking exploits, but for those who don't, the situations create enormous grief for their families and friends.

How many nights of frivolity with alcohol provide comfort to a young person sitting in prison and feeling the guilt of having caused a death?