‘Rite of passage’ is wrong way to think about drinking

June 1, 2012 | Posted in: High School, Middle Years | with 0 Comments

Some see it as a rite of passage. Others say it’s simply teens being teens.

We’re talking, of course, about drinking alcohol. It’s a celebration-filled time of year that seems ripe for teen alcohol abuse – proms, graduations, pool parties, bonfires.

The reality is that it’s illegal – both for the underage child and for the parents enabling the behavior. Sadly, it has become more common to see stories in the media about parents charged for allowing minors to drink alcohol in their homes and about kids arrested for crimes that, without the influence of drugs or alcohol, they might never commit.

We know a lot, statistically speaking, about underage drinking.

According to Columbia University’s National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse, on any given day, 7,540 children and teens take their first drink. (That averages out to more than five kids each minute of the day.)

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says that, by age 15, half of teens have had at least one drink. By age 18, more than 70 percent of teens have had at least one drink.

There are more troubling statistics from NIAAA as well. Each year, 5,000 people under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning and other injuries such as falls, burns and drowning. In 2008, more than 190,000 people under the age of 21 visited the emergency room for alcohol-related injuries.

In addition to statistics is this fact: Research shows the brain isn’t fully developed until a person is in their 20s, and teens that drink are at a higher risk for developing alcoholism. There is also a strong connection between teen alcohol use and depression, poor school performance, fighting, stealing and unintended sex.

There is a piece of good news in this, however: Research also shows parenting styles can affect whether or not teens choose to drink. Children whose parents set clear boundaries and keep close track of their teen while showing care and love are less likely to drink alcohol underage.

So what can you do in this season of parties?

If you’re concerned that alcohol may be served at a party, talk with the host’s parents. Discuss their legal responsibilities about serving minors. If they are unresponsive to your concerns, you can refuse to have your teen attend.

Suggest your son or daughter host an alcohol-free party. Or, develop a code that your children can call/text you with if they want you to pick them up from a party that’s making them uncomfortable.

Take a look at your own drinking habits. Children whose parents consume a lot of alcohol are more likely to drink. Talk with parents of your kids’ friends to determine what kind of limits they set. If their approach is different than yours, use it as a jump-off point for a conversation with your child about your family’s values.

Keep lines of communication open. A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that “a positive relationship between parents and adolescents can serve as a protective factor, offsetting the risk of alcohol use associated with peer alcohol use.”

With prom season well under way and graduations on the horizon, it’s up to us as parents to be parents and set boundaries. For one of us to choose otherwise could dramatically alter many of our lives forever.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Read more at FamilyEducation.com.

StopAlcoholAbuse.gov has a brochure with helpful information. A key point in it for parents? “You are the most powerful influence on your child’s behavior.” www.StopAlcoholAbuse.gov

There’s also a Spanish version of the brochure.

Read how police in Troy are helping wage this fight at troy.patch.com.

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