Alcohol remains the most abused substance by today’s teens.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that four out of every five individuals older than 12 have experimented with alcohol. Numerous studies have shown that the single greatest factor in teen decisions is pressure from friends.
In other words, if you are concerned that your teen might choose to drink, or may already be drinking, take a look at the company he or she keeps. Teens whose friends drink are more likely to abuse alcohol, even more than teens that see their parents drink.
While we’re all influenced by peer opinions, teens are especially vulnerable to perceived social norms, due to their desire to establish themselves as individuals. While they’re trying on various identities, kids are insecure and glom onto groups for social safety.
Pressure to drink can come in many forms. It can be direct, such as being offered a drink at a party or behind the stands at a football game. More subtle cues involve making alcohol a regular part of social occasions, so teens get the message that drinking is part of the group identity and fitting in.
Dangers involved with drinking
The majority of teens don’t think about the dangers involved with drinking, but alcohol-related automobile accidents are the number one cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that alcohol causes close to 5,000 deaths and nearly 2,000 visits to the hospital emergency room by underage drinkers each year.
Alcohol also affects emotions and impairs judgment. This means that teens who drink are far more likely to make unwise or dangerous decisions. The adolescent brain is already at a disadvantage, because the reasoning and planning regions are not finished forming. When a teen adds alcohol, further impairing brain function, the result is risky behavior.
And while teens have trouble thinking in terms of long-range consequences, alcohol contributes to serious problems down the line. Alcohol can lead to liver cancer, heart problems and permanent memory loss. This may not be motivating, but they still need to hear the facts.
Drinking scenarios and role playing
But more than just reasons to say “no,” they need help in learning how to do that. It’s a good idea to sit down with your teen and give them the hard facts, but it’s also important to role-play possible situations which could arise. Practice several possible responses they can use when offered a drink. Some discussion—and brainstorming—can make a panicked and therefore bad decision less likely.
You can use real-life examples of people who said “yes” as well as people who politely refused. But unless you abstained as a teen, avoid using yourself as an example. Studies have shown that parents who talk about their own misadventures with alcohol are perceived by teens as giving tacit permission to make the same mistakes.
Even though friends are temporarily exerting greater influence, teens do listen to parents. Letting your child know that you are aware of the pressures they face can help keep the lines of communication open during these difficult years.