Understanding The Dangers of Underage Drinking
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably found yourself in the situation where your child asks you about the drink you’re having over the weekend. I’ve been there, and I’m sure many others have too. The question often arises out of curiosity – they want to understand why adults consume alcohol if it’s considered harmful. While you may think they’re too young to grasp the concept of “adult drinks” and the dangers of underage drinking, research demonstrates that children as young as eight start weighing the pros and cons of underage drinking. This emphasizes the importance of early and ongoing conversations about alcohol with our kids.
The Power of Parents in Preventing Underage Drinking
As a proud former member of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) in high school, I’m excited to now be working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on their Power of Parents program. This initiative aims to equip parents with the confidence and tools they need to discuss the dangers of underage drinking with their children.
PowerTalk 21®: A Day for Parents to Start the Conversation about Alcohol
MADD’s PowerTalk 21®, held annually on April 21st, encourages parents to initiate conversations with their children about alcohol. To support parents in this journey, MADD has developed handbooks for parents of middle schoolers (grades 6-8) as well as high schoolers (grades 9-12). These guides equip parents to have early, intentional, and ongoing dialogues about alcohol with their kids, evolving as their children mature and their perceptions about alcohol change.
You can download these handbooks for free or register for a free online webinar on this topic by visiting http://bit.ly/1bS66wL. By doing so, you can also enter to win prizes including an Apple Watch Sport grand prize.
The Sobering Facts about Underage Drinking
A MADD and Nationwide Survey reveals that one-third of parents believe the appropriate age to start discussing alcohol with their children is between 14-18, during high school. However, as mentioned earlier, children as young as eight begin considering the pros and cons of underage drinking. Here are a few more startling facts:
- By the end of 8th grade, one in four middle school students have tried alcohol.
- Parents remain the biggest influence on their teens’ decision not to drink, even more than their peers.
- Teens are 80 percent less likely to drink if their parents clearly communicate a no-alcohol-before-21 message.
- Though drugs receive a lot of attention, alcohol remains the number one drug of choice among youth. In fact, underage drinking is responsible for more deaths than all other illegal drugs combined.
The Bottom Line
As parents, it’s our responsibility to safeguard our children from the dangers of underage drinking. MADD’s Power of Parents program provides invaluable resources to help us navigate these tricky conversations. So, let’s take advantage of these tools and make a difference in our children’s lives.
- Brooke S. G. Molina, John E. Donovan and Katherine A. Belendiuk, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, November 2010; Donovan, John E., Molina, Brooke S. G. and Kelly, Thomas M., Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Vol 23(2), Jun 2009, 248-259.
- Institute for Social Research, the University of Michigan, 2015.
- Online survey conducted by MADD
- National Academies Press, 2003
Disclosure: I was contacted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving to assist in reaching out to parents and providing them with the tools they need to discuss the dangers of underage drinking with their children. Nationwide is the national presenting sponsor of PowerTalk 21, and the GM Foundation is the national supporting partner.
| Fact | Source |
| — | — |
| Children start weighing the pros and cons of underage drinking as early as age 8 | Brooke S. G. Molina, John E. Donovan and Katherine A. Belendiuk, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, November 2010; Donovan, John E., Molina, Brooke S. G. and Kelly, Thomas M., Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Vol 23(2), Jun 2009, 248-259 |
| One in four middle school students have tried alcohol by the end of 8th grade | Institute for Social Research, the University of Michigan, 2015 |
| Parents remain the biggest influence on their teens not to drink, even more so than their teens’ friends | Online survey conducted by MADD |
| Teens are 80 percent less likely to drink if parents deliver a clear no alcohol before 21 message | National Academies Press, 2003 |
| A common misperception is that drugs are the leading harm when alcohol is still the number one drug of choice of youth and underage drinking kills more people than all other illegal drugs combined | National Academies Press, 2003 |
The Physical and Mental Health Risks of Underage Drinking
While it’s crucial to discuss the social and legal consequences of underage drinking, it’s equally important to highlight the physical and mental health dangers. Alcohol is a powerful substance that can severely impact a child’s developing brain. Underage drinking can lead to memory problems, poor academic performance, and increased risk for mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. It can also cause liver damage, heart problems, and interfere with puberty and bone growth.
The Role of Peer Pressure and Media Influence
Peer pressure and media influence play a significant role in encouraging underage drinking. Television shows, movies, music, and social media often portray drinking as a glamorous and necessary part of socializing. It’s important to discuss with your kids how media can distort the reality of alcohol use and its consequences. Encourage them to think critically about what they see and hear and to resist peer pressure.
Developing Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Some teens turn to alcohol as a way to cope with stress, loneliness, or anxiety. This is a dangerous path that can lead to dependency and addiction. As parents, we can help our children develop healthier coping mechanisms. Encourage them to engage in physical activities, pursue hobbies, or speak to a counselor or therapist if they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Legal Consequences of Underage Drinking
Underage drinking is not just a health risk but also a legal issue. It’s illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to buy, possess, or consume alcohol in the United States. The penalties can include fines, community service, suspension of driving privileges, and even jail time. Discussing these potential legal consequences can help underscore the seriousness of underage drinking.
Understanding Alcohol and Addiction
Understanding alcohol and how it can lead to addiction is fundamental in preventing underage drinking. Alcohol is a depressant that affects the central nervous system. Regular consumption can lead to tolerance, where more alcohol is needed to achieve the same effects, and eventually addiction. It’s essential to explain this to your children to help them understand why it’s so dangerous to start drinking at a young age.
The Impact of Underage Drinking on Others
Underage drinking doesn’t just affect the person consuming alcohol. It can also have severe consequences for others. Drunk driving can lead to fatal accidents, affecting innocent lives. Underage drinking can also lead to violent behavior, property damage, and other forms of harm to the community. It’s important for children to understand the potential impact of their actions on others.
Steps to Prevent Underage Drinking
Preventing underage drinking requires a multi-faceted approach. It involves open and honest communication, setting clear expectations and consequences, providing education about the dangers of alcohol, and promoting healthy coping mechanisms. Parents can also help by monitoring their child’s activities and friendships, and seeking professional help if they suspect their child has a problem with alcohol.
Underage drinking is a serious issue with far-reaching consequences. It’s our responsibility as parents to equip our children with the knowledge and tools they need to resist the pressure to drink. Let’s continue the conversation about underage drinking and work together to prevent it.
- What are the effects of alcohol on a teenager’s brain? Alcohol can interfere with a teenager’s brain development, leading to problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making. It can also increase the risk of mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
- Why do some teens turn to alcohol? Some teens may use alcohol as a way to cope with stress, peer pressure, or emotional issues. Others may be influenced by media portrayals of drinking or peer behavior.
- How can I talk to my child about the dangers of underage drinking? Start the conversation early and speak openly and honestly. Use real-life examples, explain the physical, mental, and legal consequences, and encourage them to ask questions.
Frequently Asked Questions about Underage Drinking
1. Why is underage drinking dangerous?
Underage drinking poses numerous risks, including impaired judgment, increased risk of physical and sexual assault, higher likelihood of alcohol addiction in adulthood, and potential harm to the developing brain. It can also lead to serious consequences like injury, car crashes, and even death.
2. How can I talk to my child about the dangers of underage drinking?
Start the conversation early and continue it as your child grows. Use everyday opportunities to discuss the dangers of underage drinking. Be open and honest, and listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings. You can also use resources like MADD’s PowerTalk 21® handbooks to guide your conversation.
3. Is it true that parents are the biggest influence on their teens’ decision not to drink?
Yes, research shows that parents have a significant influence on their teens’ decision not to drink. Teens are 80 percent less likely to drink if their parents clearly communicate a no-alcohol-before-21 message.
4. When should I start talking to my child about alcohol?
Research suggests that children as young as eight begin considering the pros and cons of underage drinking. It’s never too early to start discussing the dangers of alcohol with your child.
5. What is MADD’s PowerTalk 21®?
PowerTalk 21®, held annually on April 21st, is a day for parents to start the conversation about alcohol with their children. MADD provides handbooks and resources to support parents in having this crucial discussion.
6. How prevalent is underage drinking?
By the end of 8th grade, one in four middle school students have tried alcohol. Despite the attention given to drugs, alcohol remains the number one drug of choice among youth.
7. What can I do to prevent my child from drinking underage?
Open communication is key. Regularly discuss the dangers of underage drinking with your child, set clear rules and expectations, and be a positive role model. Also, stay involved in your child’s life and activities to ensure they make safe choices.
8. Where can I find more resources about preventing underage drinking?
You can find more resources on MADD’s website. They offer free handbooks and webinars that equip parents with the knowledge and tools needed to discuss the dangers of underage drinking with their children.