Written by Kanabec County Attorney Barbara McFadden | Published in Kanabec County Times 5/17/2018
In loco parentis, a Latin phrase meaning “in place of the parent”, is frequently used in the legal world in the context of responsibility and liability, and recently came to mind as it relates to the alarming rise in use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) among our local youth.
According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. middle and high school students. In Minnesota, there has been an explosion in e-cigarette use. Nearly one in five high school students reports using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, which represents a nearly 50 percent increase since 2014.
Currently, any juvenile who is found in possession of a tobacco product receives a citation from law enforcement. For a first time offense, the juvenile is given an opportunity to attend a free diversion program. Subsequent violations or noncompliance with the diversion program will result in a mandatory court appearance, and, if found guilty, court fines are assesses and the citation is entered on the juvenile’s record.
A juvenile caught with tobacco on school property faces these same juvenile justice consequences plus is subject to additional sanctions from the school, including suspension from classes and extracurricular activities.
A parent of a juvenile offender recently asked of the County Attorney’s Office, “Can’t your office do more than impose a fine, like make [the child] do community service?” While there may be the potential for the court system to “do more,” is that approach really likely to change the offender’s behavior? Mistakes are an inherent part of growing up. Parents need to recognize the influence they have on their own children’s lives and the enormous opportunities that mistakes present for parents to be parents.
The Minnesota Student Survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health showed that 79.9% of Kanabec County 8th, 9th and 11th grade students that responded agreed or strongly agreed that parents or other adults should clearly communicate about the importance of not using alcohol. Unfortunately, only 29.2% of this same group of students actually felt that their parents or other adults did in fact clearly communicate to them the importance of not using alcohol.
The Substance Abuse Coalition of Kanabec County (SACK) has armed parents with information and strategies to empower them to parent, and will continue to be a resource for prevention of youth alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. In doing so, the coalition hopes to provide parents and other adults the tools they need to educate the youth in their lives and in their community. To all parents and guardians: you matter. No one can take your place.