As the Program Specialist for MADD’s new statewide underage drinking prevention program, the Power of Parents, It’s Your Influence™, a common concern I hear parents voice is, ‘Do I have the same influence over my teen that his or her peers or the media has?’
The answer is, ‘Yes!’ Although it may not feel at times like your teen is paying attention, research shows you do have an influence. In fact, three out of every four kids say parents are the leading influence on their decisions about drinking alcohol.
Underage drinking is one of the worst dangers your teen faces, because alcohol presents a potentially serious, even deadly threat. Research shows that the brains of adults and teens respond differently to alcohol on a basic, physiological level. Because your teen’s brain is still developing, underage drinking can cause permanent damage, affecting memory, judgment, reasoning, and impulse control. In addition, adults feel drowsy and clumsy more quickly, so they typically quit drinking sooner. Teens can consume dangerous levels of alcohol before they recognize it’s time to stop, because their brains haven’t fully developed yet.
Your teen’s brain isn’t the only thing affected when they drink. There are also academic, intellectual, legal, and career risks. Teens who drink receive more D’s and F’s for grades and are more likely to flunk out, and teens who binge on alcohol engage in more risky sexual behavior. That means if your teen drinks, he or she is at a greater risk for becoming a parent before graduating high school or college. A teen can also face legal consequences for purchasing alcohol, having alcohol, consuming alcohol, and driving under the influence or while intoxicated. If caught drinking, your teen could face disciplinary action at high school or college. Poor grades, disciplinary actions, and legal troubles will shrink your teen’s career choices, whether the goal was military, a trade, advanced education, or other employment. Finally, they are at an increased risk for addiction and substance abuse. Early drinking increases the odds that your child will become addicted to alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs.
In spite of all of this, we still hear about parents allowing kids to drink in the home. It is important for parents to understand that multiple studies, in both the United States and Europe, have consistently shown that kids who are permitted to drink in their homes, drink more often and in larger amounts outside the home when their parents are not around.
The dangers of underage drinking are very real for teens. But as parents, you have the power to make a difference! MADD offers free, 35-minute Parent Workshops during which parents and caregivers receive a free parent handbook that provides guidance for communicating with teens about alcohol. The parent handbook was created based on scientifically proven results by Dr. Robert Turrisi and his colleagues at Pennsylvania State University. Some of the advice given in the handbook includes having specific, ongoing conversations with your teens, setting clear agreements about non-use of alcohol, and enforcing consequences when agreements are not met.
On April 17th MADD partnered with Suburban Hospital to hold a Parent Workshop, attended by WUSA9’s Andrea McCarren. The Parent Workshop, along with a series of similar events nationwide, drew attention to Power Talk 21 Day, the national day to start talking to kids about alcohol. Click here to view a clip of the Parent Workshop.
One upcoming event that will provide a great opportunity to talk with your teen about alcohol and have a positive impact on your community is Walk Like MADD, this Saturday, May 12th at Baltimore’s Federal Hill Park. Visit www.walklikemadd.org/baltimore for more information, to form or join a team, to volunteer, or to support the Walk.