The Evansville police are combating underage drinking with compliance checks at area gas stations and liquor stores, and officials say the years-long crackdown has been effective.

They have a near-perfect record this year with only one outlet caught selling alcohol to youth, but law enforcement is no substitute for the influence parents have on their children’s decisions about drinking. Parents are the biggest factor of all, and they need to be conducting household compliance checks.

We don’t mean merely locking the liquor cabinet, though that’s a good idea (the fridge in the garage, too, if that’s where the beer’s kept). Parents need to be having regular discussions with their children about drinking. Above all else, parents need to be role-modeling responsible drinking habits.

Even though parents might feel their children aren’t paying attention, studies have shown parents do influence the decisions of their children on whether to drink. A 2002 Journal of Adolescent Health study found that about 80 percent of youth believe their parents should have a say over whether they drink. If parents don’t intervene on this issue, friends will fill the void with their advice.

When young adults turn 21, they don’t suddenly become responsible drinkers, as many college graduates will admit if they’re being honest. Children need to be groomed for drinking responsibly through years of leading by example. When parents show they’re serious about moderation and driving sober, their children become more likely to adopt a healthier attitude toward alcohol.

Parents sometimes get duped into hosting gatherings of teenagers who think they’re old enough to drink but are too young to do so legally. The justification these parents often make is “at least my kid is under my roof drinking and won’t be drinking and driving.” These parents too often become complicit in normalizing binge drinking. In some cases, these parties get out of control and somebody gets hurt, leaving parents to regret their involvement.

Some cities and counties have social host ordinances that hold liable property owners for knowingly allowing underage drinking on their properties, though a 2016 Fond du Lac County Court case cast doubt on the validity of these ordinances. Whether Rock County someday adopts a similar ordinance, parents should recognize the dangerous message they’re sending to youth by playing social host.

Denying youth access to alcohol, as the Evansville police and other agencies are trying to do, is important, but the greater problem is parents’ tolerance, even promotion, of underage drinking.

If teenagers cannot buy booze at a liquor store because the Evansville police or some other law enforcement agency has cut off a possible supplier, they will seek out adults of drinking age to buy their booze. One way or another, the determined teen will find alcohol unless parents give their children good reasons to abstain, at least until they’re 21 and hopefully for even longer.

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