Some facts about alcohol use from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Alcohol is by far the most widely used drug in the United States.
- There are approximately 18.3 million alcohol abusers and alcoholics in the United States
- Alcohol contributes to one hundred thousand deaths annually, including nearly two in five traffic fatalities. In one year alone drunk drivers under the age of 20 caused nearly 8,000 fatal car crashes
- The financial cost to society from alcohol abuse is approximately $166.5 billion a year
The news is often filled with bad news about the consequences of teens drinking. Fortunately lately we have seen lots of new research into how to prevent teenagers from drinking. A discussion about the dangers of underage drinking should start early – now is not too soon! Let’s review some of the current information about this topic and help you begin a conversation in your home. Doing so may give your child the tools to resist peer pressure and temptation in the future.
Stay Involved and Encourage Discussion
Researchers have found that kids are less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking if their parents monitor their social lives. The parents who are most successful in this monitoring are those whose parenting style is termed authoritative. They set clear rules and expectations, but also have and encourage open discussion with their kids. Parents who are very permissive (behave more like a friend than a parent) or those who are very strict (rules but no discussion) are less successful.
Take Action to Help Your Child Deal with Life’s Stressors
Some kids pick up drinking when under stress and have an early response to alcohol that makes them more likely to become problem drinkers later. It seems that people who start drinking at a young age learn to use alcohol to decrease stress. If your child seems stressed, depressed or is facing challenging life events (divorce, death, financial struggles) act to help them. Seek advice or counseling services early.
Start a Conversation
Preteens are still very open to learning from their parents. You need to be a role model for them. This means using alcohol wisely: drink moderately (at most 1-2 drinks a day), never drink and then drive, make it clear when you have chosen a designated driver. Start talking with them early about the risks of teen alcohol use. Here are some discussion points for you to use with your child:
Ask why they think teens start drinking in the first place? We know that the answers include that they want to:
- Fit in with a crowd of peers who are drinking
- Not look like a loser; not seem afraid
- Try to seem older or more mature
- Escape difficult emotions, relieve stress, deal with anger or
- Try to be different, to rebel against expectations and limits
Ask what your child thinks of these reasons? How can they avoid the same pitfalls? You can suggest that your child:
- Decide what you want to do ahead of time and stick to it.
- Hang out with people who are making healthy choices. A good rule is to choose friends that in some ways make you a better person and who are making choices you respect.
- Ask themselves if using alcohol fit in with who they think they are and their plans for the future?
- Consider what are the consequences for drinking?
Discuss the influence of media and advertising on them. Explain that TV, movies and games can make it look like everyone drinks but many young people do not! Also explain that alcohol companies spend billions of advertising dollars each year trying to get kids to start drinking. Many kids hear about this big-company control and choose to think for them selves and say “no”!
Role play how they can respond when feeling pressured. Some ideas:
- Blame something else “my parents would kill me”, “I’m too tired”.
- Suggest something else to do.
- Leave an uncomfortable situation – point out this can be done quietly for example by saying they are going to the bathroom and actually walking away.
- Simply say “No”!
To help your child resist the temptation of underage drinking, start a conversation around the dinner table tonight. Express your expectations; be clear about the consequences of not following your guidelines. Also ask questions and enjoy learning from each other. Alcohol prevention for your child starts with you and this conversation!