published Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Baumgardner: Time to talk to teens about drinking

By Julie Baumgardner

With summer just weeks away, parents and young people are looking forward to more free time. While some down time is great, too much free time can open the door to children and teens getting involved in unhealthy activities.

An article written by Dr. Richard Gallagher, associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, notes that more teens experiment with substance use in June and July than during the school year. Although this may seem fairly innocent, other studies tell us that even experimentation is risky for teens because of how teens' brains develop.

Studies conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show that 10 million young people under the age of 21 drank in the last month.

Underage drinking is associated with a number of negative consequences such as using drugs, getting bad grades, poor health, engaging in risky sexual behavior, making bad decisions and even suffering injury or death. More than 190,000 people under 21 are treated in hospital emergency rooms annually for alcohol-related injuries.

What SAMHSA Studies show

• 42 percent of high school students drank in the last 30 days;

• 24 percent binge drank;

• 70 percent of high school seniors and 33 percent of eighth graders had tried alcohol;

• 5,000 kids died from alcohol-related incidents.

Studies have shown that parents have a significant influence on young people's decisions about alcohol consumption. More than 80 percent of children say parents are the leading influence in their decision to drink or not.

Increased risk factors

• Significant social transitions such as graduating to middle or high school;

• Getting a driver's license;

• A history of social and emotional problems;

• Depression and other serious emotional problems;

• A family history of alcoholism;

• Contact with peers involved in troubling activities.

What parents can do

• Stay actively involved in your children's lives.

• Know where your children are, what they are doing and who their friends are.

• Set clear standards and enforce them.

• Stay away from alcohol in high-risk situations. For example, drinking and driving.

• Get help if you think you have an alcohol-related problem.

• Don't allow underage drinking in your home.

While many people view underage drinking as a rite of passage, it is important to consider the potential negative consequences that could occur if things get out of hand. Is it really worth the price your child might pay?

Now is a great time to begin conversations with your kids about the dangers of alcohol. Making your expectations known today may cause them to think twice before taking a drink tomorrow.

Contact Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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