Teens and Alcohol - What You Can Do

by Kyle Kick
BStrong Together Executive Director

 This April marks the 32nd annual Alcohol Awareness Month founded by NCADD to encourage communities to raise awareness about alcohol use and abuse and take action to prevent it.  In order to help educate parents and community members about underage drinking in our community and the Illinois Social Hosting Laws, we will be hosting a Parent Coffee on Thursday, April 5th from 7:00 – 8:30 in the BHS GRC.  We hope you will join us!  (Click here for more details about the event.)  
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol is the most widely used drug among children and teens in the US.   
It is important to know that alcohol effects teen and adult brains differently. During the critical period of brain growth between the ages of 12 and the early 20’s, the adolescent brain is developing vital connections in two critical areas that are significantly affected by alcohol use – the prefrontal cortex (responsible for judgement, reasoning, planning, complex decision-making, and impulse control) and the hippocampus (responsible for long-term memory and learning skills).  Alcohol is also linked to a decrease in the integrity of the white matter pathways - the brain's communication system from one region to another.  According to the American Medical Association Fact Sheet (2003), “Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible.”  (Click here to learn more about the effects of alcohol on the teen brain.)    
It is important that parents, caregivers, and others involved in the lives of our children and youth know that they can make a difference.  
What can parents, caregivers, and other adults do?  

  • Encourage and foster healthy bonds with your child. Children are less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol if they are closely connected to their parents and family.    
  • Start talking early and talk often about alcohol and other drugs. Research says that those conversations should start before the age of 9. And remember, it’s 60 one-minute conversations with your child, not one 60-minute conversation.  
  • Teach children about the dangers of alcohol and its effect on the brain. Click here for some fun videos for kids about the effects of alcohol on the brain.  
  • Set clear boundaries and expectations about alcohol use and be consistent in enforcing your family rules.  Research clearly shows strong parental disapproval is the number one reason teens choose not to drink alcohol.  When teens were asked to rank the major influences in their lives, they place parents first and family second, before their friends and other influences.   
  • Be a good role model for your teen - demonstrate positive decision-making and responsible, safe use of alcohol if you chose to drink. Click here to learn more about being a positive role model for your teen when it comes to drinking.   
  • Stay involved in your teen’s life. Know who their friends are, where they are going, and who they are with.  
  • Teach your child how to say "no" and help them to develop an exit plan if they find themselves in a situation where they aren't comfortable.  For more tips on how to say "no", click here
  • For information about the myths about alcohol and drugs, tips for how to talk to your kids, and how to teach them to say “no”, click here.  

The most important thing to remember is that what you say and what you do matters when it comes to teaching your children how to make wise, healthy choices about alcohol. So, start talking early and talk often, share the science, give them facts, help them to develop a plan to empower them when they find themselves in a situation where alcohol is present, and be clear about your family values. 

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