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Q: Can I legally let my minor children drink alcohol under my supervision?

A: Only your own kids, and only at home. That's the "parental supervision" exception to the law that otherwise prohibits alcohol consumption by anyone under 21.

A proposal to permit 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to consume beer and wine under parental supervision at restaurants is advancing in the state Legislature. For now, though, the only parental supervision exception is for underage consumption at home.

Section 6-20(e) of the Liquor Control Act says "the consumption of alcoholic liquor by any person under 21 years is forbidden." Violation is a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in a $1,000 fine and one year in jail. On top of state law, city ordinances can also prohibit underage drinking.

There are two narrow exceptions to this general rule that you must be 21 to drink in Illinois: when it's part of a religious ceremony; or under parental supervision, at home.

The "religious ceremony" exception says that "the possession and dispensing, or consumption by a person under 21 years of age of alcoholic liquor in the performance of a religious service or ceremony" is OK. This exception permits both underage "possession and dispensing" of alcohol, and underage consumption.

The parental supervision exception says that "the consumption by a person under 21 years of age under the direct supervision and approval of the parents or parent or those persons standing in loco parentis of such person under 21 years of age in the privacy of a home" is OK.

Both these exceptions are found at subsection (g) of Section 6-20 of the liquor code.

"Direct supervision" of underage drinking probably means that one or both parents are physically present with the underage child who's consuming the alcohol. If parents aren't close by, a legal guardian could supervise.

The only place underage drinkers can legally drink under parental supervision is "in the privacy of a home."

So, as long as it's at home, and under direct parental supervision, their children of any age can consume any kind of alcohol. Any other underage drinking, even under adult supervision, in your own home (or anywhere else), can get you into trouble.

Following the parental exception just means an underage drinker has a defense to a criminal charge of underage drinking. It doesn't guarantee a parent will avoid problems with, for example, DCFS, or with an ex-spouse claiming the kids are being improperly supervised. The more underage the drinkers, and the more they drink, the more trouble you're inviting.

The current proposal to allow some parental supervision of underage alcohol consumption in public was apparently inspired by Wisconsin. They allow anyone underage to consume any kind of alcohol in any "licensed premises," if it's under parental supervision.

The Illinois proposal started out that way, but now would only permit 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to consume only beer and wine, and only in a restaurant "where the sale of alcoholic liquor is not the principal business."

John Roska is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.