Talking to Your Teen about Underage Drinking
Guest Post by Halley McIntyre – Program Manager at Mothers Against Drunk Driving Arizona
An ounce of preparation, as Ben Franklin so wisely noted, truly is worth a pound of cure. This fundamental idea is never more important than when it comes to our kids’ safety. The conversations we have with them early, and often, can have a huge impact on the decisions they make later in life, and help to shape their entire future.
One of the most important places to put this into practice is when it comes to conversations about underage drinking. It’s vital to be able to talk with your children about this dangerous activity, and to make sure that your expectations come across loud and clear. Let them know the consequences for drinking before they are 21 and make sure to always follow through with these consequences. Consistency and defined boundaries are a hallmark of great parenting, and will set the tone for good decision-making when they’re faced with the difficult choices of the teenage years.
Friends, schoolmates and media all have an influence on teens, but the good news is, parents are still #1! A national survey shows that 74% of teens name their parents as the biggest influencer in their decisions about drinking. So let them know how you feel! Tell them that their safety is your top priority, and give them the tools to stay healthy. They’re listening!
It also always helps to come to the conversation armed with information, because you’re guaranteed to get questions from those sharp and inquisitive kids of yours! So, here is some information you can share with your teen about why it’s so important to stay away from underage drinking.
- It’s illegal! Breaking the laws about underage drinking can bring many consequences, including fines and fees, to license suspension, and a criminal record that can make getting hired or getting scholarships more difficult even years after the fact.
- It’s dangerous! Teens who drink underage are far more likely to get in violent fights, fall into sexual situations they’re not prepared for, and make the frightening choice to drive intoxicated, or to get in a car with someone who has been drinking. Doing so isn’t just dangerous for the teens; it’s dangerous for everyone on the road! 10,000 people every single year are killed in impaired driving crashes, and many of these deaths are teens; in fact, teens are 17 TIMES more likely to die in a car crash when they’ve been drinking than when they haven’t.
- It’s deadly! Plainly speaking, underage drinking kills. Teens are much more likely to binge-drink than adults, which can lead to liver damage, brain damage, or even fatal alcohol poisoning. The CDC has released scary numbers that show that there are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in this country every year. That works out about 6 deaths per day. It might seem to teens to be a harmless activity, but the reality is, it can be a fatal one.
- It’s addictive! People who start drinking before the age of 13 have a 45% chance of developing a lifelong alcohol addiction. Biology plays a huge part in this (more on that later). Also, if you teach yourself at such a young age that drinking is the only way to have fun, you begin framing all your activities around it, and it can be an almost impossible thought process to undue.
All these reasons stem from one simple fact – the teenage brain is still developing! Science proves that the brain isn’t fully developed until around age 25, and the teenage years contain the biggest growth spurt since infancy. In fact, the last part of the brain to develop fully is the executive “decision-making” center, where foresight and good judgement dictate many of our actions. If you mix alcohol with a growing brain, it’s a recipe for impulsivity and addiction. The illustration above shows the effects of heavy drinking on the teen brain: note that the brain scan of the teen on the right was after the teen had been sober for two solid weeks, and was sober during the testing.
If you’d like more information, or your own copy of our 411 Handbook with even more tools for talking to your teen, you can find it here.