With growing influence on young people to drink, whether by their peers or from its glorification on social media, parents should be well equipped with the knowledge and understanding of how to empower not only themselves but their children to make well informed decisions.
Annually, over 4,300 deaths are caused largely from alcohol-impaired driving in the United States. Given this startling fact, it is crucial that parents educate themselves on the realities surrounding underage drinking and have the skills and tools to address the issue through teachable moments with their kids.
What is different about underage drinking? Know the facts.
Underage drinking poses a danger not only to your child’s safety, but it also has major effects on their neurological development. As parents experience the growth and development of their child, it is easy to forget that the teenage brain is still under construction. The last part of the brain that develops is the area that enables kids to form good decision making, learning and memory. Lacking the developed skill to make well thought out decisions impairs the teens ability to consciously make good choices when it comes to drinking. This is where the parent’s knowledge and experience come in to play.
Heavy drinking and long-term alcohol abuse not only negatively affect the brain’s development, but additionally can cause cancer, liver failure and heart disease. While you may think that a sip or two here and there won’t hurt, teens don’t typically have the ability to stop there. Statistically, teens who drink tend to binge drink – consuming four to six drinks at a single sitting.
In addition, one of the biggest misconception parents have about underage drinking is related to the concept called “social hosting.” This is the idea that “kids are going to drink anyway, so why not have them drinking at my house and control it?” While many think this may be reasonable, there is no data to support it. Conversely, it is thought that teens who are allowed to drink at their home, will drink more than their peers who have to obtain their alcohol in duplicitous ways. Furthermore, it is thought that teens who are permitted to drink with permission in their home will drink more outside of the home.
In addition to their moral obligation, parents need to be aware that there are legal boundaries surrounding permissive underage drinking. Parents that “social host” are liable for the actions of underage kids in their home. For instance, in Orange County, the city of Garden Grove has positioned social hosting ordinances that fine parents $1,000 for allowing teens to drink under their supervision.
It is important to know as a parent that there are ways to help your child navigate through the pressures of drinking while strengthening your parent/child relationship. Here are some tips for addressing the topic with your child
1. Listen and Talk with Your Kids.
Ask them questions and use teachable moments to begin the conversation. You can start with a question like “What do you know about driving under the influence?”
2. Set Boundaries
Build out a contract, verbal or written, clearly stating expectations and consequences. Listing these expectations will alleviate any confusion or surprises for both parties when issues arise. Including your child in decisions about what the consequences should be and how to address them if the boundaries are broken is an important step in building a solid foundation in parent and child communication.
3. Know the “who, what, when, where” when your child goes out.
Understanding the details of your child’s whereabouts is important. Keep an open line of communication so that your child feels safe sharing these details with you.
4. Get to know the friend’s parents.
Make sure to have an open dialogue with the other parents: “When your child is over at my house, I will make sure they’re safe from drugs and alcohol, can I count on you to offer the same?” and “If you notice something going on with my child, let me know. You can count on me to do likewise”. Knowing that your child is safe outside of your supervision will provide your child with freedom that you can be comfortable with.
5. Help your child practice how to deal with peer pressure.
Settle on a code word or phrase your teen can use during a call or in a text to alert you that they’re in an uncomfortable situation and need you to help or pick them up. When in doubt, teach them the 3 R’s:
- Refuse the action and state your reason.
- Reverse the pressure by offering an alternative and leaving.
- Recruit help from friends or trusted adults.
6. Enforce consequences
Once the boundaries, expectations and consequences are established with your child, it’s important to follow through with the agreed upon terms. The reality is that kids are going to make mistakes, and when this happens parents need to recognize mistakes as learning opportunities. The key is to follow through on exactly what was contracted between you and your child, no more and no less. This shows that you support them, while instilling values of discipline and respect which will carry on throughout your child’s life.
Lastly, make sure to keep an eye out for signs of an alcohol problem using these helpful tips:
- Problems at school or falling grades
- Abrupt changes in friends, groups or behavior
- Unusual health issues or sleeping habits
- Fighting and arguing with family
- Lying and avoiding communication
For more resources, including a downloadable contract for you to sign with your kids, visit https://drugfree.org/resources/.
Dan Gleason, Director, Community Service Programs’ Project PATH (Positive Action Toward Health) is committed to eliminating problems associated with alcohol, tobacco, drug use. CSP is a member of the Garden Grove Drug Free Coalition which hosts an annual “reality party” where parents can get an up-close look at the real life situations teens face with underage drinking and drug use. www.ggdfc.org | www.cspinc.org/Project%20PATH.