The biggest problem of teenage use today is alcohol. Since marijuana use isn’t the big issue it was in years past, it has become less of a problem. However, alcohol remains a long-term problem for teens and even for adults.
Young people who use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs usually begin by 10th grade.
You can combat peer influence with parent influence. Try to understand why kids, your kids, might use alcohol or other drugs. Think about your child and the kinds of reasons teens get into alcohol or other drugs.
These reasons include:
• To fit in with their peers
• To escape or relax
• To relieve boredom
• To seem more grown up
• To rebel
• To experiment
Talk with your teen. See where he or she fits into these possible reasons. Talk regularly.
Advocate for your children
What can a parent do to try to prevent their teenage child from develop a desire to drink liquor?
1. First, send your teen a clear and consistent message that you do not want them to drink before the age of 21.
2. Do not make exceptions for special events like prom parties, spring break, birthday parties or graduation parties. Youngsters who are allowed to drink at home will learn that “drinking is no big deal to my parents” and this will make them more likely to drink outside the home.
3. Lockup your alcohol. Two-thirds of teens admit they have taken liquor from their parents with their parents’ knowledge. Many times the teen adds water to liquor to try to disguise their theft.
4. Talk with your children about the risks of underage drinking. Research shows that part of the brain responsible for memory and certain learning functions (the hippocampi) is affected by alcohol. Hippocampi in the brains of teenagers who drink were, on average, about 10 percent smaller than the hippocampi in the brains of non-drinking teens.
The American Medical Association has indicated that if the hippocampi is damaged, it can impact a person’s memory and ability to learn certain functions.
5. Underage drinking is also associated with future alcohol dependence. Data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions show that people who began drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence during this lifetime than those who began drinking at age 21 or later.
Watch your messaging
Pay careful attention to the messages you send your children. If our teens see us as parents drinking and driving, think about the message you are sending. If they see us smoking, think about the message. If they see us using drugs, you really need to think about the message you are sending. If they hear us lying to people on the phone to get out of something, think about the message.
If we as parents are their models of how to do things right, we have to also take responsibility for times we model the wrong things, too.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. For more information, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-681-2250.