Many parents worry about teen drinking, and rightly so. In the U.S., more than 4,300 teens die each year from drinking alcohol. And teen drinking is shockingly common. (See the box below titled, “Drinking Behavior in the Past 30 Days.”)
Although teens often consider themselves to be “just like adults,” they’re not. Their brains are still developing, and heavy alcohol use can cause permanent damage, including problems with reasoning, learning and memory. There are many other consequences, as well. (See the box below titled “Consequences of Teen Drinking.”)
Alcohol use at an early age can cause a lifetime of alcohol abuse problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “youth who start drinking before age 15 are 6 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking after the age of 21.”
Because April is prom season and Alcohol Awareness Month, we asked some parents of Austin teens what they were doing to address alcohol use with their children.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Open communication was a common strategy. “Don’t wait until your son is headed out the door to his senior prom to discuss alcohol,” says one mom. “We started having conversations with our son when he was 10. We use real life observations, news stories and TV programs as opportunities.”
Another parent says, “We ask our daughter to talk about what kids her age are doing. I tell her about my experiences as a teen and try to be open and honest.”
Set an Example. Parents recommend practicing the behaviors you want your child to imitate. “My wife and I make a point of modeling designated driving. We make sure our son hears our conversations about who will drive if we think we might drink at a party,” says one dad.
Plan Ahead. Another parent recommends making a plan in case your teen finds herself in a difficult situation. “We told her never to get into the driver’s seat after drinking and never to ride with someone who has been drinking. She knows to call us right away. We will pick her up—no questions asked, at any time.” She also made sure her daughter installed a ride sharing app on her smart phone and practiced using it.
Another strategy is to talk about ways your teen can respond when feeling pressured to drink. “Helping our son come up with a ‘talk track’ has made him feel more confident in handling some of his friends who can be very insistent and may not use the best judgment.”
Lock Up Alcoholic Beverages. Limiting access to alcoholic beverages is important. One report found that 28 percent of 7th to 12th graders got their alcohol from a home.
One parent confides, “We put all the alcohol in a cabinet that locks. It’s always locked when we aren’t home and we carry the keys on our key rings. This isn’t because we think our kids might get into the cabinet. It’s because we want them to be able to tell their friends, ‘My parents lock up their booze.’ In other words, we want to give our kids an easy excuse to make the right decision.”
Parents can make a positive difference in helping teens make good decisions about alcohol.
- Communicate the serious consequences of alcohol use.
- Look for chances to talk about alcohol.
- Set clear expectations of acceptable behaviors.
- Set examples by your own behavior.
- Help your teen have a “just in case” plan.
- Know where your teen is.
- Know your teen’s friends and their parents.
- Lock up alcohol at home.
- Talk to other parents about ways to keep teens safe.
A very special thanks to the Austin parents who shared their experiences, strategies and thoughts in an effort to help other parents struggling with the same issues. Details were changed to protect privacy.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer in Austin.
Consequences of Teen Drinking
Teens who drink are more likely to experience serious consequences, including:
- Lifelong effects from changes in brain development
- Memory problems
- Problems with normal growth and development
- Unwanted and unprotected sexual activity
- Problems at school, such as poor grades
- Social problems, such as withdrawal from activities
- Legal problems, such as hurting someone or being arrested
- Car accidents and other injuries, such as falls and drowning
- ξDeath from alcohol poisoning
- Abuse of other drugs
Source: cdc.gov. “Fact Sheets – Underage Drinking.”
Drinking Behavior in the Past 30 Days
Drank Some Alcohol 30%
Engaged in Binge Drinking 20%
Rode with a Driver Who’d Been Drinking 20%
Drove After Drinking 10%