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Ten Myths About Underage Drinking for Parents

August 15, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

The local news media continues to be filled with stories about the current heroin epidemic which is threatening the lives and well-being of young adults on Cape Cod. This is a serious problem that the community needs to address and there are several local efforts dealing with the problem.

It’s important, however, to remember that the vast majority of youngsters do not use heroin or prescription narcotic pain killers; this is especially true among high-school aged kids. In that age group, the most commonly abused substance is alcohol. During the past six years, the Falmouth Prevention Partnership has worked in local schools and with parents to dispel myths about teen alcohol use with a focus on the health-related and legal issues of underage drinking. That effort has led to a significant decline in teen alcohol use in Falmouth.

With the summer break coming to an end and many of our kids starting middle school and high school in September, it’s time to dispel some of the common myths and reemphasize the facts about teen drinking.  

The Myth and Facts information comes from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the State of Maine Substance Abuse Services.

Myth: Teen drinking is OK as long as they’re not driving.

Fact: Drinking impairs judgment whether or not your teen gets behind the wheel. Only 32 percent of teen drinking deaths are related to driving; 68 percent are related to other causes, including alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries such as burns, drowning, and falls. Four out of ten teens who drown have been drinking alcohol.

Myth: Drinking is a rite of passage; parents can’t do anything to prevent it.

Fact: Many parents believe that their words of advice hold no power over the decisions their teens make when it comes to drinking. A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration found that parents often underestimate the influence they have over their own children. However, the study showed that teens who believed their parents would disapprove of their behavior were less likely to use drugs or alcohol. Eighty percent of teens said their parents were the leading influence on whether or not they would drink. 

Actually, most kids in Falmouth ages 12 to 17 don’t drink. Misperceptions that “everybody’s doing it” actually make young people more likely to drink. On the other hand, when these misperceptions are corrected, and teens realize that “not everybody’s doing it,” they are less likely to drink.

Myth: It’s better for kids to start drinking young, so that they can learn how to handle it.

Fact: Alcohol impacts teenagers differently than adults because the adolescent brain is still developing—especially the part of the brain that deals with decision-making. Drinking before the age of 21 places teens and young adults at higher risk for academic failure, depression, suicide, and sexual assault. It also increases a teen’s risk for alcohol dependence; kids who begin drinking before age 17 are twice as likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. Those who begin by age 15 are more than four times more likely to develop dependence.

Myth: In Europe, teens drink more responsibly than in the U.S.

Fact: According to data collected from 15- and 16-year-olds in 35 European countries, European kids actually drink more often, drink more heavily and get drunk more often than American teens. According to the World Health Organization, the earlier young people start drinking, the more likely they are to experience alcohol-related injury and alcohol dependence later in life.

Myth: Some parents believe that being ‘too strict’ about adolescent drinking during high school will cause teens to drink more when they first leave the home and do not have as much parental oversight.  

Fact: Research from The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (sponsored by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reveals “that teens who perceive their parents to be more permissive about alcohol use are more likely to abuse alcohol and to use other drugs.

Myth: Parents who serve alcohol to teenagers at home are under no legal jeopardy. 

Fact: The law in Massachusetts is clear. Whoever furnishes alcohol to a person under 21 years of age shall be punished by a fine up to $2,000 or imprisonment for up to a year or both. Further, anyone who provides alcohol to an underage youth who is involved in a DUI accident could be held legally and financially responsible.

Myth: You don’t need to talk to your kids about drinking before they get their driver’s license.

Fact: How about before they hit puberty? Children start viewing alcohol more positively between the ages of nine and 13, so nine is really the optimal age to start talking to them about underage drinking.

Myth: Alcohol isn’t as bad for teens as other drugs.

Fact: Alcohol kills more youth than all other drugs combined, including alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries such as burns, drowning, and falls. And, alcohol places kids at a higher risk for academic failure, depression, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection, and other substance abuse.

Myth: Cracking down on underage drinking will only make kids want to drink more.

Fact: Many of us think of teens as naturally rebellious, however, research shows that the majority of kids respond best to clear rules—both from their parents and society at large. Underage youth are significantly less likely to drink alcohol when they believe they’ll be caught by police; and, they are even less likely to drink alcohol when they believe their parents think it would be “very wrong” for them to do so. 

Myth: If we educate kids about the dangers, they won’t drink.

Fact: Scare tactics don’t work, at least not for most teens. That’s because we all have a natural tendency to think, “That won’t happen to me.” In addition, research suggests that using scare tactics can actually do more harm than good, because they can normalize or glamorize the risky behavior.

Recommended Resources

MedlinePlus-Underage Drinking: Access excellent information about underage drinking from reliable sources that is accurate and up-to-date. 

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