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Talk, They Hear You — Why Bother?

January 30, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

The most recent Risky Business articles have dealt with the importance of talking with teens and preteens about underage drinking. Several people have asked me why they should bother because kids are often exposed to messages that drinking is fun, will help them cope with stressful situations, or is just plain cool. 

The following recent news reports and government statistics provide some good reasons why it’s important to bother about underage drinking.

TV Alcohol Ads Tied to Problem Drinking for Teens (School of Medicine at Dartmouth College): Alcohol ads on TV were seen by about 23 percent of those aged 15 to 17 and nearly 23 percent of those aged 18 to 20. “The more receptive the teens were to alcohol ads on TV, the more likely they were to start drinking, or to progress from drinking to binge drinking or hazardous drinking.”

"Lack of guidance at home, other family members with alcohol issues, and dysfunctional family relationships are all factors that can contribute to a person's issues with alcohol, and explain why alcohol-related advertising would have been memorable for such a person.”

Alcohol, Pot Fuel Half of Young Driver Deaths (Columbia University): According to a recent study, “Half of young drivers who died in crashes in nine states were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or both at the time of the accident.”

Younger Age at First Drink, Higher Odds for Problem Drinking (Yale School of Medicine): The researchers suggest that a teenager who first drinks alcohol at age 14 and then gets drunk for the first time at age 15 would be a heavier drinker than a teen who started drinking at 14 but didn't get drunk until the age of 18.

The researchers said parents should get involved and take steps to prevent alcohol use by their children, "We would recommend that parents attempt to delay their children's use of alcohol as long as possible, even among adolescents who have had their first drink, a significant percentage has yet to drink to intoxication. Therefore, parents' efforts to delay drinking to intoxication may be helpful in reducing their child's long-term risk for negative outcomes associated with early drinking. We encourage parents to speak to their children openly about the dangers of heavy drinking.”

We should not lose sight of the fact that for kids less than age 18, alcohol is the most abused substance. Alcohol use and other risk-taking behaviors such as smoking, drug abuse and risky sexual behavior tend to cluster together. Heavy drinking in adolescence may persist into adulthood and is associated with alcohol problems, including dependence, premature death, and problems with school, work, and relationships.

So it is important to “bother” — research shows that parents are the #1 reason young people decide not to drink. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, your kids really do hear you. So, start talking to your children about alcohol before they start drinking.

The following information is from the SAMHSA, Talk, They Hear You campaign. This program sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helps parents and caregivers start talking to their children early—as early as 9 years old—about the dangers of underage drinking.    

Why Your Child Might Start Drinking

As children approach their teen years, they begin to experience many emotional and physical changes, and these changes are not always easy. During this challenging time, some children may experiment with alcohol. For most children, it is not just one thing that influences them to drink, but rather a combination of factors.

Stress: When children worry about things like grades, fitting in, and physical appearance, they may use alcohol as a way to escape their problems. What You Can Do: Encourage your child to get involved in sports or other extracurricular activities as a healthier way to cope with his or her problems.

Peer Pressure: The age range between 11 and 18 is an impressionable period when youth are especially susceptible to outside influences such as peers, family members, and the media. What You Can Do: Help boost your child’s confidence by helping him or her learn different ways to say “no” and reminding him or her that real friends would not pressure him or her to drink.

Transitions: Life events such as transitioning from middle school to high school, breaking up with a significant other, moving, or divorce can cause children to turn to alcohol. What You Can Do: Reassure your child that things will get easier, and make sure he or she knows that drinking is not a solution.

How To Tell If Your Child Is Drinking Alcohol: Warning Signs

Although the following signs may indicate a problem with alcohol or other drugs, some also reflect normal growing pains. Experts believe that a drinking problem is more likely if you notice several of these signs at the same time, if they occur suddenly, or if some of them are extreme in nature. 

  • Mood changes: flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness
  • School problems: poor attendance, low grades, and/or recent disciplinary action
  • Rebellion against family rules
  • Friend changes: switching friends and a reluctance to let you get to know the new friends
  • A “nothing matters” attitude: sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy
  • Alcohol presence: finding it in your child’s room or backpack or smelling alcohol on his or her breath
  • Physical or mental problems: memory lapses, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, or slurred speech

Say Something

Most 6-year-olds know that alcohol is only for adults. Between the ages of 9 and 13, kids start to view alcohol differently. Many begin to think drinking is OK. Some even start to experiment. It is never too early to talk to your child about alcohol. About 10 percent of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol. By age 15, that number jumps to 50 percent. The sooner you talk to your children about alcohol, the greater chance you have of influencing their decision not to drink.

What you say to your child about alcohol is up to you. But remember, parents who do not discourage underage drinking may have an indirect influence on their children’s alcohol use.

Recommended Resources

Underage Drinking: Information from the National Library of Medicine

Kids and Alcohol: Information for parents from KidsHealth.org

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