By Dr. Elizabeth Triggs
To write this entry, I consulted nine young adults ages 18 – 30 (my nieces and nephews) to add first person experience to this article.
Not all teenagers drink alcohol, but many do. Almost all are exposed to it in social situations in and outside your house. Summer time is fun time with many more unsupervised hours and freedom from the school schedule.
Alcohol consumption, accidents and hospitalization due to alcohol intoxication all increase in the summer.
Here are some ways to help your children and you as they navigate the maze of underage drinking. Here are also some suggestions of what to do if you find they are drinking.
Communication is key. Have honest and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about alcohol before they are exposed to it in social situations. Middle school is a good time. The summer before their freshman year is a perfect time to reiterate what you’ve already discussed. Acknowledge that your child will come into contact with alcohol and give them the tools to say “no, thanks”. Let them know that drinking can be intriguing, tempting and even fun, but it is not for teenagers. Touch on the dangers of binge drinking, accidents, alcohol poisoning, addiction and your family’s genetic personal history (if applicable) of the disease of addiction. Most sexual assaults, unintended sexual experiences and unintended pregnancies occur in people under the influence.
Talk with your spouse/partner about what your response will be if your teenager becomes one of the 70% of high school students who has had something to drink. Offering to pick a child up – even if they have been drinking, is a good policy. Discussion happens the next day. Once you’ve reached a consensus, discuss the consequences (restrictions, disciplinary action) with your teen before it happens.
Educate your children. Most teens do not see the dangers of alcohol. Teach your children the drinking age is 21, not 18, to protect developing brains from alcohol. Most people with alcohol use disorder had their first drink by age 15. Let them know that one beer = 4oz of wine = one ounce of hard liquor. Drinking games mix alcohol with competitive young brains and are extremely dangerous. Tell them never to accept drinks from people they do not know. Do not drink “jungle juice”, “punch”, or “anything made in a trashcan”. If it is your belief, let them know you’ll enjoy a drink with them on their 21st birthday.
Keep track of the alcohol in your own home. “It’s easy to steal liquor from anyone who doesn’t keep track of it.” Better yet, put your alcohol in a locked cabinet once your oldest child reaches age 10. At the very least, don’t leave it on display. Parents should not only define responsible drinking, they should model responsible drinking. Enjoy a beer at a ballgame or a margarita at the beach, but don’t get sloppy at a family wedding or out to dinner. They are watching.
Do not be the “cool” parent and let kids drink at your house. Letting teens drink “responsibly” at your house does not mean they won’t drink irresponsibly elsewhere. It is dangerous, illegal and you will be legally liable for any bad outcomes.
Be proactive. Know who your children are with and whether their parents are home. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Kids are less likely to push the limits if all the parents in a friend group know what’s going on.
Most teen parties aren’t well supervised even if adults are present. Insist on talking to the adults who are hosting any party.
Do not allow your teens to attend last minute sleepovers. “Last minute sleepovers mean someone is either not in the condition to see their parent or plans to get in that condition.” One pediatrician I know even recommends no sleepovers at all after age 14. “Nothing good happens after 2am.”
Your pediatrician is a great resource for information about adolescent emotional and social development.
They can help advise you how best to help you support and enjoy your teenager as they grow into your adults.
Here’s hoping your main warm weather problems are sunburns and poison ivy. Happy summer!