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The Perils of Teenage Drinking
My husband and I had a very disturbing weekend.
He focused on an issue that too many parents either don’t take seriously enough or bury their heads in the sand and avoid altogether.
I’m talking about teenage drinking.
Fortunately, the weekend riots did not stem from my own children’s drinking, but from the ignorance and denial of other parents. But before I get on my soapbox, let’s look at a scary statistic.
Currently, alcohol use among youth under the age of 21 is the number one drug problem in the U.S., according to Georgetown University’s Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth:
o More young people in the US drink alcohol than smoke tobacco or marijuana, making it the drug most commonly used by young Americans.
o Every day, 5,400 young people under the age of 16 drink alcohol for the first time.
o In 2005, one in six eighth-graders, every third tenth-grader, and almost every second twelfth-grader were current drinkers.
o In 2004, more than 7 million youth aged 12 to 20 reported binge drinking, defined as “having five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the past 30 days.”
Additionally, recent surveys have also found that:
o Girls drink more, while boys drink less or increase their binge drinking more slowly than their peers.
o Twelfth grade drinkers and heavy drinkers are now more likely to drink spirits than beer.
o The new “Alco pops” are particularly attractive to girls and are most popular with the youngest drinkers.
The consequences of underage drinking are heartbreaking:
o Every day, three teenagers die as a result of drinking and driving.
o At least six more young people under the age of 21 die each day from non-alcohol-related incidents such as murder, suicide and drowning.
o More than 70,000 college students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or rape each year.
o Recent studies have found that heavy exposure to alcohol can disrupt adolescent brain development and cause loss of memory and other skills.
A parent in denial
These are sobering statistics that every parent should take note of. So why do most parents I talk to seem to be in complete denial?
This weekend, my husband and I were woken up at 1:20 a.m. by a parent who called us saying our son had been drinking and running around drunk. When I asked why he thought our son was drunk, he claimed that our son and several others were at his house drinking (unsupervised) and when he and his wife got home, he left.
No wonder this parent sounded pretty upset. Since the drinking had taken place at his house, he was worried about what would happen if one of the boys in question got into trouble, or worse, died in a car accident.
I asked him to calm down and explained that my son was already home. Although he had one beer at his friend’s house, he was not drunk and did not drive. Plus, all the other boys involved were home and safe in bed.
At that point, the parent became enraged, saying he couldn’t believe I knew my son was drinking and questioned my fitness as a parent. When I asked if he knew his own son was drinking, he insisted I didn’t know what I was talking about and ordered his son to stay out of his house.
The sad part is that I was neither shocked nor surprised by his reaction. In fact, I had this conversation (or a very similar one) with my parents on a regular basis. For some reason parents do not want to admit that their children drink, smoke or try drugs. Of course, other children do such things, but never their own.
This is your alarm clock!
I happen to know that this particular parent’s son has a serious drinking problem. Not only does he drink too often and too much (often during school), but he also drives while drinking. Yet his parents refuse to acknowledge that he even drinks, much less has a drinking problem.
Obviously, not every teenager has a drinking problem. But the harsh reality is this – like it or not, your kids will try cigarettes, alcohol and at least one recreational drug. Their behavior afterwards and their decisions about alcohol and drugs will largely depend on your reaction to these experiments.
Instead of getting bent out of shape and saying it can’t or won’t happen in your house, talk to your kids and listen without judgment. Allow your teenagers to trust you to be there for them and guide them when they get into questionable situations.
My kids know – because I’ve told them over and over – that even though I don’t support their drinking, I’ll be there for them (and all their friends) if they get drunk. No matter the time of day or night, I will pick them up and take them all home unless they have a sober driver.
Even in the fairy-tale forty, we can still make bad decisions and sometimes pay a high price for it. So it is natural to want to prevent our children from doing the same.
But it is much more important that our children know that we love them and that we will be there for them when they make a mistake.
Our children are a reflection of us and we want them to be perfect. But as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect world. As I see it, we have two options. We can choose to have children who are not so perfect but are alive and well, or we can choose to ignore their faults and risk losing them.
I personally choose the first option. For the sake of you and your teenagers, I hope you do the same.
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