Parents of teenagers have plenty of things to worry about, but alcohol consumption ranks high on the list of concerns. Underage alcohol consumption can lead to plenty of other worrying behaviors and circumstances – risky behavior, dangerous driving, and unsafe sex are just a few of the potential problems that seem to go hand-in-hand with underage alcohol consumption.
As the parent of a teen, what do you need to know about underage drinking? Is it as big a problem as it seems to be? What are the statistics on underage drinking? What can you do to keep your teenager safe? Take a look at some underage drinking facts and strategies you can use to protect your teenager.
Statistics on Underage Drinking
Depending on where you live, who you talk to, and where you get your news from, you could believe that underage drinking is a big problem or not much of a problem at all. The problem is, anecdotal evidence in the form of local gossip, popular opinion in your area, or even isolated news stories won’t give you the full picture when it comes to teens and alcohol. Looking at the actual statistics concerning teens and drinking can give you a better perspective on the issue.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who are between the ages of 12 and 20 are responsible for 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States. Considering that it’s illegal for people under the age of 21 to purchase alcohol in the US, the fact that people under that age are consuming more than 10% of the alcohol consumed in the US is pretty significant.
What’s even more worrying is that of the alcohol being consumed by underage people, 90% of it is consumed in binge drinking sessions. Binge drinking:
- Is usually defined as 5 or more drinks in a row for men, and 4 or more drinks in a row for women.
- Carries serious risks, including direct risks such as alcohol poisoning, and the risk of injuries related to alcohol consumption, like falls or car crashes.
- Is associated with violence, STDs, unwanted pregnancies, poor pregnancy outcomes, certain cancers and chronic diseases, and memory and learning problems.
- Is also associated with alcohol dependence.
A 2017 survey of high school students found that in the 30 days before the survey, 30% of respondents drank some alcohol, 14% binge drank, 6% drove after drinking alcohol, and 17% took a ride in a car with a driver who had been drinking. What does this mean for your child?
It means that there’s a good chance that your high schooler has either tried drinking or knows someone who has, probably has opportunities to drink and could be at risk for driving after drinking or riding with a driver who has been drinking.
Consequences of Underage Drinking
It’s not just car crashes and alcohol poisoning that you have to worry about. Your teenager’s brain is still developing, and that means that it’s more vulnerable to the introduction of substances than an adult brain. The earlier a person begins drinking, the more profound the effects of alcohol on their brain can be and the more likely it is that repeated use of alcohol will cause long-lasting problems.
Some studies suggest that alcohol use can cause significant learning and memory impairment in teens. Teens who drink are more likely to have higher absence rates and failing grades in school. They may have more social problems as well – they’re more likely to get into fights at school and less likely to participate in healthy extracurricular activities.
Not only are they more likely to get into fights, but they’re also more likely to be the victims of violent attacks, like physical or sexual assaults. They run the risk of disruption of normal growth and development, and they’re more likely to experience physical problems – hangovers, for one thing, but they may also be more vulnerable to other illnesses.
Underage drinking can also have legal consequences that can impact your child in profound ways for a long time. Underage drinking is a crime, and teens can wind up under arrest and in court for the offense, or for related offenses like drinking and driving.
These kinds of legal problems can stay with your child for some time, possibly preventing them from getting into college or getting the job that they want. Arrests and convictions during the teen years may be sealed once the teen reaches adulthood if they can stay out of trouble going forward, but by that time, the legal ramifications of their actions could already have had a serious impact on their future plans.
How to Protect Your Teenager
Parents can feel helpless to protect their teens from the dangers of underage drinking. “All teens experiment with alcohol” is a common belief, and you may feel that you won’t be able to stop your teen from trying alcohol. But there are things that you can do to discourage your teen from drinking and encourage them to make healthier choices instead.
Start by taking a close look at your own behavior. Your children watch what you do, even when you think they aren’t paying attention. If you have concerns about your own drinking, be proactive and get help. Steer clear of drinking in unsafe situations, such as when you’ll need to drive shortly afterward.
It’s not OK for you just because you’re an adult, and your teenager may imitate what they see you doing. Also, set clear boundaries in your home when it comes to alcohol. Don’t allow your teen to drink as long as it’s in the home, and make it clear that any alcohol in the home is off-limits to your teen and their friends.
As your child gets older and becomes more at risk for developing an addictive personality, it’s important to stay involved in their lives. Get to know their friends. Talk to their friends’ parents, make sure that everyone is on the same page about keeping alcohol away from your teenagers.
Help your child plan for situations where they might be exposed to or pressured to try alcohol – you can role play, for example, to give your child practice saying no. Finally, make it easy for your child to come to you with things that they’re worried about or with information about their lives.
You want your child to call you if they need a safe ride home from a place where alcohol is being served, for example. They’re not going to do that if they fear being punished just for being at a place where alcohol is being served. Focus less on punishment and more on encouraging them to do the responsible thing and keep the lines of communication open between you.