Drinking alcohol undoubtedly is a part of American culture, as are conversations between parents and children about its risks and potential benefits. However, information about alcohol can seem contradictory. Alcohol affects people differently at different stages of life—small amounts may have health benefits for certain adults, but for children and adolescents, alcohol can interfere with normal brain development. Alcohol’s differing effects and parents’ changing role in their children’s lives as they mature and seek greater independence can make talking about alcohol a challenge. Parents may have trouble setting concrete family policies for alcohol use. And they may find it difficult to communicate with children and adolescents about alcohol-related issues.
Adolescent alcohol use remains a pervasive problem. The percentage of teenagers who drink alcohol is slowly declining; however, numbers are still quite high. Forty percent of adolescents report drinking by 8th grade, and 55 percent report being drunk at least once by 12th grade (Johnston et al., 2009).
Adolescents do listen to their parents when it comes to issues such as drinking and smoking, particularly if the messages are conveyed consistently and with authority (Jackson, 2002). Research suggests that only 19 percent of teens feel that parents should have a say in the music they listen to, and 26 percent believe their parents should influence what clothing they wear. However, the majority—around 80 percent—feel that parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol. Those who do not think that parents have authority over these issues are four times more likely than other teens to drink alcohol and three times more likely to have plans to drink if they have not already started (Jackson, 2002).
Parents influence whether and when adolescents begin drinking as well as how their children drink. Family policies about adolescent drinking in the home and the way parents themselves drink are important. For instance, if you choose to drink, always model responsible alcohol consumption. But what else can parents do to help minimize the likelihood that their adolescent will choose to drink and that such drinking, if it does occur, will become problematic? Studies (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007) have shown that it is important to:
•Talk early and often, in developmentally appropriate ways, with children and teens about your concerns—and theirs—regarding alcohol. Adolescents who know their parents’ opinions about youth drinking are more likely to fall in line with their expectations.
•Establish policies early on, and be consistent in setting expectations and enforcing rules. Adolescents do feel that parents should have a say in decisions about drinking, and they maintain this deference to parental authority as long as they perceive the message to be legitimate; consistency is central to legitimacy.
•Work with other parents to monitor where kids are gathering and what they are doing. Being involved in the lives of adolescents is key to keeping them safe.
•Work in and with the community to promote dialogue about underage drinking and the creation and implementation of action steps to address it.
•Be aware of your State’s laws about providing alcohol to your own children.
•Never provide alcohol to someone else’s child.
Web Resources to help you talk with your kids about alcohol: www.theantidrug.com, www.timetotalk.org- Great Parent Talk Kit, www.drugfreeactionalliance.org, www.drugfree.org
Parents, family, and friends of teens please make sure to check out these sites or contact the SAFE Coalition for more information on issues that teens are facing today! Van Buren County SAFE Coalition: 319-293-6412, firstname.lastname@example.org or check us out at www.vbsafecoalition.com and on Face Book.