It’s not always easy to have “uncomfortable conversations” with your children. If you’re afraid to talk to your teen about the dangers of drinking alcohol, keep the following statistics in mind: according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among youth in the United States. Although it’s illegal for persons under the age of 21 to consume alcohol, more than 4,300 underage youth die from excessive drinking each year. Also shocking is that 11 percent of alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by individuals between the ages of 12 and 20, and more than 90 percent of this is consumed in the form of binge drinks.
Not only can alcohol consumption lead to death from alcohol poisoning, it can create school, social, physical and legal problems. It’s also important to keep in mind that abusing alcohol can lead to physical and sexual assault, a higher risk for suicide and homicide, memory problems, abuse of other drugs, alcohol-related auto accidents and other unintentional injuries (like drowning). Alcohol abuse can cause a disruption of normal growth and sexual development, and changes in brain development. Teens who abuse alcohol are more likely to experience unplanned, unwanted and unprotected sexual activity.
Now that you’ve read the statistics, having “the talk” ASAP should be a no-brainer. There is no better time than now to discuss the dangers of alcohol abuse with your teen; this is a critically important time to do so. Early adolescence is when many teens begin to experiment with alcohol, and getting to your kids before it starts is key in preventing a problem down the road. Here are some approaches to consider when you’re preparing to have this important talk with your teen.
Have a chat during a relaxed time
Timing is everything. Plan to talk to your child when you’re both relaxed and calm. Find out what he or she thinks about alcohol and be prepared to answer questions.
Establish rules and consequences
Make sure that your child is aware of all the laws surrounding alcohol consumption, and also that he or she is aware of the rules set by you in your own home. For example, your child should never get in the car with someone behind the wheel who has been drinking. Make the consequences known ahead of time and be sure to enforce them if the rules are broken. This is not an issue to be taken lightly.
Set an example
No matter what age they are, one of the best ways we can teach our children is leading by example. What behaviors are you displaying for your kids? Live healthy, active lives where—if you consume alcohol—you do so in moderation and responsibly. They’re always watching, and even if they aren’t so “little” anymore, they look up to you and learn from your example.
Encourage healthy relationships
We were all teens once, so it goes without saying that during these years, a lot of us tend to do the opposite of what our parents want us to do. Instead of aggressively discouraging certain friendships, encourage them to engage in healthy relationships instead. Know who your child’s friends are; if his or her friends are experimenting with alcohol, there’s a good chance your child is, too.
Support your teen
One of the best things you can arm you child with at this age is the self-esteem and confidence to stand up to peer pressure. Encourage an open environment where he or she can come to you and ask for help, no matter what.
Understand what leads teens to alcohol use
It’s important to know what the risk factors are for underage alcohol use: peer pressure, family problems, struggling to fit in and experimentation are a few. Teach your child healthier ways to properly deal with these factors (if they are to occur) before they happen.
Dr. David Greuner is the cofounder and head doctor of NYC Surgical Associates.