You may be surprised to learn that one of the biggest factors influencing the likelihood of your child using alcohol in their pre-teen and teen years is actually your attitude about underage drinking! So it's important to base your attitude on facts.
What's the big deal?
Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among adolescents. "A strong relationship appears to exist between alcohol use among youth and many social, emotional, and behavioral problems, such as using illegal drugs, fighting, stealing, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs, skipping school, feeling depressed, and deliberately trying to hurt or kill themselves. In addition to the problems that occur during adolescence, early initiation of alcohol consumption is related to alcohol-related problems later in life." (NIH)
Drinking is a right of passage.
Actually, only about half of high school seniors have tried alcohol.
It's safer if teens have some drinking experience before college.
In fact, the older a person is when first using alcohol, the less likely they are to develop an alcohol use disorder, experience alcohol-related unplanned pregnancy, violence, and crime.
It's safer if I let them use alcohol at home.
Kids who say their parents are "strongly against" them using alcohol are far less likely to drink. There is no safe alcohol use for kids while their brains are still developing. Teens are prone to both risk-taking behavior and impulsivity, which too often makes for a deadly combination with alcohol.
They're good kids, they're not into that.
Because of how our brains develop in adolescence, we are highly motivated to display risk-taking behaviors in front of our peers. It's just how we're wired, and not an indication of "good" or "bad".
What you can do.
There are many factors influencing underage drinking and they combine in complicated ways. But there are several things you can do to tip the odds in favor of your child's health and well-being:
Talk to them early and often about substance use, the harm it presents, your expectations, clear consequences, and the truth: it's not a universal practice, even though it may seem that way sometimes.
Purposefully strengthen your bond and become a trusted sounding-board for your teen.
Educate them about real peer pressure. It's not typically some bully egging you on, it's an internal desire to fit in and be seen as a risk-taker by your peers. If they can recognize it within themselves, they have a chance to override it.
Model responsible behavior and make it clear that alcohol poses unique danger to growing bodies, which is why it is only safe for responsible adult consumption.
Restrict access to alcohol in the home by locking your liquor cabinets and closely monitoring what you have. Pay particular attention to alcohol stored in refrigerators in garages (keep your garage door closed to prevent theft!) or basements that may be used less frequently.
Sleepovers are often the setting for underage drinking. Know who is attending, and make the rules and consequences clear. Be sure friends know not to bring any beverages (including water bottles) and make sure you have parents' phone numbers. If it's at another home, contact the parents in advance and ask about their rules and expectations.
Practice protective factors so that teens develop healthy coping skills rather than turning to substances for relief.
Prepare your child with tools to use in sticky situations. Have a code word for a quick, discrete pick-up. Prepare peer-acceptable "excuses" not to drink or to leave a party early, such as "I'm driving", or "I have an early practice tomorrow". Revisit and update these frequently.
Seek professional help if you are concerned about your child's well-being. An open conversation with your pediatrician can be a great place to start.
Find additional resources here:
The "Talk, they hear you" video and app from SAMSHA, helps parents start meaningful conversations.
We're all in this together, so why not support each other? Together we can help keep all our kids safer and healthier. If you want to connect with a group of like-minded parents, consider joining WHEN:DFCC. You'll meet a friendly team of caring Webster residents pooling our efforts to support Webster kids.