Parents Empowered is here today discussing the harms of underage drinking and what parents can do to prevent it. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States. In addition, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks. Although adolescents and young adults drink less often than adults, they tend to drink more than adults, frequently drinking as many as 5 or more drinks on a single occasion.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming more than 4-5 servings of alcohol in a 2-hour period. In Utah, kids are consuming large quantities of alcohol in a single sitting, sometimes as much as 8 drinks at a time. In fact, Utah kids are binge drinking at higher rates than their peers in other states.
Research shows that alcohol affects a child’s brain differently than an adult’s.
- A child’s brain is going through rapid and dramatic changes through their mid-20’s.
- Underage alcohol use can harm areas of the brain associated with decision-making, memory, learning and impulse control.
- Early onset of drinking, including binge drinking, has also been linked to long-term alcohol abuse in adults.
- A healthy brain is crucial to a child’s success in life.
The holidays are a great time to have a conversation with your kids about the harms of alcohol to the developing brain and to set clear rules about not drinking before age 21. The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control reports that alcohol sales increase by 31 percent during the holidays, making the availability of alcohol in homes much more likely. So it’s important to keep all alcohol safely stored out of reach and to make it clear that you will not tolerate underage drinking. Studies show that if your child thinks you would view their drinking underage as very wrong, there’s a very small chance they will drink—only about 4 percent. But if your child perceives you would only view it as wrong or a little wrong, the likelihood they will drink dramatically increases to almost 50%. That’s why parents’ clear rules against underage alcohol use are so powerful. (Utah Student Health and Risk Prevention Study, 2017).
Strong, consistent communication with your kids is key. Ensure you and your spouse or partner are on the same page when communicating expectations. As part of regular discussion, ask them open-ended questions to help prepare them for situations where alcohol is present. Ask your teens, “What would you do if someone offered you alcohol?” “If you and your friends were in an unsafe situation, how would you handle it?” “What if your friends’ parents allow alcohol at the party?” These are examples of open-ended questions that get your teens to think out loud, anticipate any obstacles, and practice saying no when faced with peer pressure situations.
Also let your kids know that if they go somewhere and alcohol is present, they can call or text you and you will come to pick them up.
Parentsempowered.org has lots of tips and resources parents can use to start these conversations and help prevent underage drinking. You can also visit chitchatgame.com for some great conversation starters for kids and parents.