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Five things parents need to know about underage drinking

Sep 11, 2014

As kids reach adolescence, they are faced with so many decisions and influences. As parents, we want to believe that we have equipped our children with the necessary skills to make the right choices and handle difficult situations appropriately. What parents must remember is that although teenagers may look like adults, they are still children who are wandering into the unchartered territory of adulthood, but without the maturity and reasoning skills needed to handle most situations appropriately.

1. Over 60% of adolescents have experimented with alcohol more than once in high school.

Many parents will ask their child once or twice if they have tried drinking, and when the child tells them no, they take a huge sigh of relief and try to avoid bringing it up again. There are constant social pressures throughout high school, and your child could try alcohol at a number of places, including a friend’s house, an athletic event or even school. This conversation needs to be a reoccurring one. Most teenagers will not bring up the subject with a parent, for fear of getting in trouble. So parents need to keep an open line of communication and ask more than once or twice, but in a calm and welcoming tone, so the child feels comfortable opening up about an uncomfortable subject.

2. Kids do not understand the effects of alcohol on their bodies.

Jerry Weichman, clinical psychologist, warns parents about alcohol poisoning and other dangerous effects of underage drinking. Binge drinking occurs because kids will drink a large amount of alcohol in a short time and feel fine. The alcohol takes time to go through the child’s system so he will drink more alcohol thinking he is not feeling the effect he is looking for. Most alcohol poisoning deaths happen when the child passes out or falls asleep, and the alcohol continues to move through their system, ultimately shutting down the central nervous system. In other cases, teens have vomited in their sleep and choked to death. It’s important for parents to have these discussions with their kids, so they are aware of the physical effects of binge drinking.

3. Most teenagers who drink do it to conform or fit in.

Peer pressure is present on a much larger scale than it was when we were kids. Social media has made it possible for kids to communicate all day everyday about what they are doing. Teenagers want to feel accepted and to be a part of what is going on socially, which means they will try to remain relevant in the social scene around them. Kids will post drinking videos, tweet about parties and plan get-togethers on social media, making it far more public than it ever was before.

4. Some parents allow drinking in their homes.

Family advocate Sharon LeGore says that most parents who allow drinking in their home do so under the presumption that they are being “safe.” Your child’s friends may have parents who feel that allowing their kids, and their kids’ friends, to drink in their home, and in some cases even providing the alcohol to them, is actually doing those kids a favor. In actuality, they are sending the message to young people that it is ok to break the law, as long as you do it in your own home. Furthermore, they are giving alcohol to people whose brains are still developing, and whose physical maturation could be adversely affected by the alcohol and/or drugs they are putting in their bodies. Talk to the parents of your child’s friends and find out ahead of time what their position is regarding alcohol in their home.

5. There is a disconnection between what kids are doing and what parents think they are doing.

Stephen Gray Wallace, school psychologist, did a study on behaviors of teenagers. Parents do not influence their children’s behaviors as much as they think they do. Many parents feel like they have talked to their child about drinking, expressed how they feel about it, so their child will not participate in underage drinking. As kids reach adolescence, they desperately want to be independent and grown up. They begin to experiment with things that grown-ups do, including drinking alcohol. Parents need to understand that their children are normal teenagers who will experiment with certain types of behaviors, even if they are not forthcoming about that with parents. Therefore, it’s important for parents to recognize these rights of passage and discuss them openly with their children. Reinforce family values and boundaries, come up with exit strategies for the child to use if she’s ever in an uncomfortable situation and talk about appropriate group behaviors.


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