The following are five of the most important actions parents can take to keep kids safe from underage alcohol use.
1. You should clearly express your position on alcohol abuse.
There must be no question that you have a 100% expectation that your children will stay alcohol-free until they are 21 years of age. Surveys have shown that this clarity is a decisive factor in reducing underage alcohol use. According to the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, a teen whose parents would not be extremely upset to find out their kids were drinking is ten times more likely to drink than one who says his parents would get extremely upset with him. Be crystal clear. Repeat the message from time to time.
2. They need to have their own good reasons to say no.
Your kids are out there on their own. When they arrive at a place where their underage friends or acquaintances are drinking, it’s almost guaranteed that you will not be with them. They need to have an accurate understanding of the risks of underage alcohol use. As much as possible, that understanding needs to be turned into a certainty that enables them to make the right choice on their own behalf when they are in the middle of a room of drinking, underage friends, and acquaintances. For example:
They need to understand that alcohol poisoning can kill them or their friends. It can kill in one episode – it’s not accumulated damage, it’s an overdose.
They need to know that no one – not them and not any of their friends – should ever get in a car with a driver who has been drinking. It’s always dangerous but when a person is young and an inexperienced driver, it’s even more life-threatening. Every one of their friends who choose to get in the car with an intoxicated driver is at risk.
Each year, 4,300 underaged Americans die from alcohol use. Make sure your kids know that one mistake could easily put them in this group. The following provides more on the consequences of underage drinking,
3. They need to know how to say no to alcohol without getting negative reactions from their friends.
Peer pressure is an insidious influence. It’s not so much that people pressure them to drink although that definitely happens, sometimes through mockery and sarcasm. It’s also the fact that young people want to be liked and feel like they fit in. If they refuse alcohol without any reasoning that sounds logical to their friends, they may fear repercussions.
One mother who had this realization worked out scripted responses her kids could use in various difficult situations – including drug and alcohol use – to help them make the right choice without feeling so much pressure that they give in. Here’s an excerpt from her blog post on how to say no:
When someone offers you weed: “My mom used to smoke pot when she was younger and now she can smell it from a mile away. She checks my clothes every night. Can’t do it, man.”
Another parent suggested that his kids tell their friends that they get randomly drug tested by their parents and can’t take the chance.
4. They need to feel safe coming to you with their experiences.
The father of a couple of teenagers was asked what he had said to his children about drug and alcohol use. He summed it up like this: “I haven’t said much to them. They know I’ll kill them if they get into that stuff.” Of course, he didn’t mean this literally – he just meant he would treat them harshly. The problem with this solution to teen alcohol or drug use is that it practically guarantees that your children will not come to you for help if they or a friend get drunk and run into problems.
Your kids must feel safe asking you questions and getting problems off their chests. No matter how strongly you feel about underage drinking, you’ve got to give your kids the safety to come to you for advice or to confess their mistakes. If they don’t feel safe, they might repeat their mistakes or go without wise advice when they really need it.
5. They must know that they can call you for help, any time of the day or night, without getting in trouble.
Fortunately, there are many parents who give their kids this assurance. Don’t forget to include this in your discussions. And then, of course, you have to deliver by getting up at 3 a.m. and picking them up from a party that has spiraled out of control. And then you need to put your child to bed and when everyone is well-rested, work out a rational method of preventing the same problem from occurring again.
The good news is that fewer high school students are drinking these days. For high school seniors, the percentage that has drunk alcohol has dropped from 73% in 2006 to 64% in 2015. Parents play a very important part in keeping this number going down.
Parenting is never an easy job. But keeping your children safe from the dangers of underage drinking is one of your most vital tasks. We hope these suggestions help make it an easier one.