Experts: 'Buddy' Parents No Friends to Kids

The usual response to incidents like the Illinois hazing melee -- at least among most tongue-clucking adults -- generally runs along the lines of "Where were the parents?"

But what happens if, as may have been the case here, the parents were out buying the booze for the underage drinking bash?

"It's not just that you're helping the kid out because they need a couple of beers for a party," said Dr. Roger McIntire, author of books including, Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps for a Better Relationship. "It's the message that is behind that … the message was that these kinds of overindulgences are acceptable."

The issue has struck a nerve among those who believe many parents may be more worried about being a buddy than a father or mother to their teens -- to the detriment of both the kids' development and the strength of the family.

Experts generally agree that parents aren't doing their children any favors when they buy underage drinkers beer in an effort to win affection or popularity.

"It's an extension of the same type of parent who ... would consider having graduation parties and serving alcohol to kids and saying, 'Oh, I'm taking keys,' and considering they are being the cool parents, actually thinking they should be voted parents of the year," said family therapist Carleton Kendrick, author of Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We're Going to Grandma's.

"It is more important for them to be perceived as cool than it is for being a parent."

School administrators in Northbrook, Ill., on Monday ordered the suspension of several girls involved in the now-infamous May 4 "powder puff" incident. But officials also made clear they had limited jurisdiction in the case, which was not a school event.

Police continue to investigate reports that at least some parents were involved, and are expected to file criminal charges this week.

"This is about the personal responsibility of the parents to do their job as parents and to make sure that their children are behaving appropriately," attorney Mark Smith told Fox News' Hannity and Colmes last week.

But defense attorney Mel Sachs argued that shifting blame to the parents doesn't hold their kids accountable. "Children have to learn to be responsible themselves," he said. "It's very easy to shift the burden to the parents. We can't allow that to happen."

Some experts insist parents must still be held accountable, at whatever level.

"I cannot imagine what was in the minds of these parents if they helped provide these kids with those animal entrails and excrement and not asking what this was all about," Kendrick said.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America recently launched an ad campaign encouraging parents to act less like friends and more like adults. In the ads, parents ask kids many questions about where they're going, who they will be with and when they're coming home, in an effort to show they care and to make sure their teens know what's expected of them.

"We advise parents that kids have friends, they need parents," said organization spokesman Howard Simon. "It's important for parents to remember their kids, whether they admit it or not, are looking for you to set rules and boundaries … it's probably the single most important job you have in your life.

"It's great to have your kid like you and we understand the desire to want to be that but at the same time, your kids need you to give you the rules on how to guide your behavior."

Olaunda Williams, youth director for The Partners to Reduce Underage Drinking in North Carolina, said a trend is beginning to emerge where parents are held accountable by the justice system for providing alcohol.

North Carolina has a "huge problem" of parents buying beer for their underage teens, she said.

"They feel like they're being responsible parents as long as they take the car keys," Williams said. "We want them to understand they are breaking the law. Parents need to understand this behavior is illegal, it shouldn't be tolerated."

McIntire said parents should give their children kudos for a job well done and praise their positive attributes, not for aiding and abetting illegal behavior.

"If you try to be a friend to your child, the way to do it is to show some admiration for some things that they do, not to try to come in on the side of liking the same music or using the same lingo or otherwise trying to fit in with them and their friends," he said.

"I think it's better to take the high road."