Keeping A Lid on Teen Drinking
By Angela Switzer
Your kid is growing up. It’s exciting to see her move gracefully into adolescence, taking steps toward independence. With a considerable amount of time spent away from the family, she’s able to explore new situations with friends in her ever-expanding world. You trust your child, so why worry?
Well, for many youths ages 12 and up, adolescence is the time for experimenting with alcohol. Twelve may sound a little young, but believe me, it is happening. Although drinking among high schoolers overall has decreased over the past two decades, according the Oregon Student Wellness Survey, teen drinking rates in Deschutes County have been routinely higher than state averages since 2004. In Bend, one of the most prolific beer towns in America, local parents have an even more keen responsibility as the
local culture here can seem to encourage drinking.
The risks are worth understanding: According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), youth who drink are more likely to experience school problems as well as social problems, including withdrawal from youth activities. Add to that, potential legal problems. Sure, many parents consider teenage drinking to be a rite of passage. You drank in high school, right? A little partying? No big deal! That way of thinking, however, can be detrimental to your child’s path in life—physically, mentally, and developmentally.
The teenage brain is a work in progress. The frontal lobe—the part of the brain responsible for decision-making, inhibition and impulse control—is not fully formed until around
age 25. Unlike adults, teens are more likely to make decisions based on emotions rather than reasoning. Because of this developmental phase, the effects of alcohol on the teenage brain are very different from those on the adult brain. Alcohol can interfere with the normal processes vital for healthy brain development, and may have long-term negative effects. Teenage drinking over a long period of time may even damage the frontal lobe permanently. In a recent study by Susan Tapert from the University of San Diego, brain scans revealed visible damage to the brains of middle schoolers who binge drank, and a direct correlation between taking up binge drinking and declining intellectual performance.
The good news—and, yes, there is good news—is that as a parent, you are very influential when it comes to your child’s decisions. Talking with your child openly about alcohol is the first step toward prevention. Being clear about your expectations is vital. Although you may feel the opposite to be true, the majority of youth say their parents are the ones who shaped their attitudes about drinking at a young age.
In addition to conversations with your child, look at your own behavior when it comes to drinking. Children are perceptive.If you drink, drink responsibly. Be careful hosting parties where alcoholis abundant. Are you modeling the behavior you want your child to mimic in her adolescent years and later? If you’re hanging off the beer trolley, yelling at your teenager’s friends, probably time to re-assess. Moreover, the source of alcohol for most youths is either their own home or their friends’ homes. This has several implications: First, it may seem elementary, but if there’s no alcohol around, teens are not as likely to be drinking. Second, the concept that it’s acceptable for children to drink at home has its flaws. Sure, the European model, where youths are allowed to drink under their parents’ supervision, may seem appealing, but the part of the story often untold is that most European countries actually have a higher incidence of teenage binge drinking than the United States. The CDC underscores this problem, explaining that youth who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21.
Equipped with up-to-date information regarding the dangers of underage drinking, you are ready to purposefully steer your child in the right direction. Even if your teen’s refrain
these days is, “Everyone’s doing it!” you’ll be comforted to know that “everyone” in this case refers to only about onethird of high schoolers who use alcohol regularly. Remind your teen that she does in fact have a choice in the matter, and that plenty of high schoolers wait until the legal age of 21 before taking that first drink.