Evidence suggests that alcohol use—and in particular binge drinking—may have negative effects on adolescent development and increase the risk for alcohol dependence later in life (Squeglia et al., 2009; Grant and Dawson, 1997). This underscores the need for parents to help delay or prevent the onset of drinking as long as possible.
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.
Children and adolescents often feel competing urges to comply with and resist parental influences. During childhood, the balance usually tilts toward compliance, but during adolescence, the balance often shifts toward resistance as teens prepare for the autonomy of adulthood. With open, respectful communication and explanations of boundaries and expectations, parents can continue to influence their children’s decisions well into adolescence and beyond. This is especially important in young people’s decisions regarding whether and how to drink—decisions that can have lifelong consequences.
To help parents in preventing and reducing adolescent alcohol and drug use, The Partnership at Drugfree.org provides information and tools through its website, its community education programs, and its public service messages. Other web resources: 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.