Parents want to keep their children safe. To ward off diseases, parents have their infants immunized. To give them skills in order to protect themselves as they become more independent, the subject of “stranger danger” is discussed. Parents set curfews and emphasize safe driving habits when teens obtain a driver’s license. Conversations also take place about the dangers of illicit drug use.
However, underage drinking may be the most difficult issue for parents to discuss. Teen drinking is often thought of as a rite of passage, glamorized and romanticized by the media. Battling these outside influences, however, can lead to feelings of hypocrisy if the parents drank before the age of 21. As a result, they may decide not to have a conversation with their teen and deny the problem exists because they feel discouraged and powerless especially when they hear, “But everyone’s doing it!”. The boundaries parents set to keep their adolescents safe provides their teens with a sense of security and develops a level of trust when it comes to important, life-saving issues like avoiding underage drinking.
There is no simple, guaranteed solution to ensure teenagers will wait until their 21st birthday to make a decision about drinking. Addressing this issue depends on the adolescent and the situation. It is important for parents to understand why their teen may be considering starting drinking or already doing so. For example, teens report drinking because they are bored, pressured, trying to escape from challenges, or believe is a way to celebrate or blow off steam.
In order to tailor the conversation to their adolescent before parents initiate the discussion, set boundaries or dole out consequences, it is important to ask themselves what their teen would hate to give up when rules weren’t followed. The realities and consequences of underage drinking must have a personal connection to things and people they care about. Is it losing their place on an athletic team or in the drama club; spending time with friends; driving the family car; forfeiting a scholarship; being injured and/or hurting someone else and having to live with that burden; spending time in jail, losing driving privileges or one’s driving license? Just as important as the consequences of underage drinking is to acknowledge adolescents when they observe the rules.
Deciding whether they are going to drink alcohol is not a one time choice for teenagers. It is something they may be faced with every week, on multiple occasions so continue to have conversations with them. According to adolescents, alcohol is almost always available and there are ample opportunities to make mistakes. Their decision is ongoing.
Talking about alcohol-related problems in the life of a family member, friend or acquaintance may help make the issue more real. Every family has someone they know and maybe love who has dealt with difficulties caused by alcohol. Whether the problem is alcoholism and its dramatic consequences or the devastating impact of impaired driving, talk openly about the impact of alcohol on their lives. This might provide some motivation for teens to wait until the age of 21 to make their decision about drinking.
However difficult it may be, have a conversation with your adolescents instead of lecturing them. It is important to be aware of tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. While eye-rolling and sighing may be initial responses, it’s important to create a comfortable environment in which teens feel validated in expressing their thoughts and opinions.
Underage drinking is a serious societal problem. Parents can help shape the behavior and attitude of their adolescents in regards to alcohol. You can help to protect teens from the dangers of underage drinking. The best way to influence them not to drink before age 21 is to have a strong, trusting relationship with them. Research shows that children, ages 10 and 11, whose parents fostered communication, were highly involved and set clear expectations were more likely to see underage drinking as harmful and were less likely to initiate early alcohol use. When these pre-teens turned 17 and 18, they were also less likely to use alcohol. You can make a difference. Start the conversation today.
For more information, please visit http://www.madd.org/ or http://www.why21.org/
MADD Oregon News