Monday, June 13, 2011

5 things parents shouldn't do when it comes to drinking

Lisa Frederiksen, The Partnership at

“If you’re going to drink, just don’t drive.”

“At least when I host the party and take away the keys, I know they’re safe.”

“Drinking at high school parties is a rite of passage for teens.”

You’ve likely heard these kinds of comments from parents — perhaps even said or thought them yourself — but the way teens interpret these messages may surprise you, namely, that it’s okay to drink (and in a teen’s world, that’s not sipping a glass of wine with dinner).

Navigating the high school years and what to say to your teen about drinking can be difficult. As parents, we want to do what’s best, and we want to trust our children will do as we say. But if our actions around drinking do not model our words, the mixed messages can be confusing for our kids. To keep it clear, consider these five things parents should not do in front of their teens:

1. Leaving it to the school to have the “drug talk.” Parents need to talk early and talk often with their teen. If the drug and alcohol issue is talked about at home like any other health issue — getting enough rest, wearing a bike helmet, using a seat belt — from elementary school on, your teen will be better informed about the dangers and consequences of teen drug and alcohol use.

2. Encourage (or turn a blind eye to) underage drinking. There are scientific reasons for this. The brain is not fully developed until one’s early 20s, often not until 25, and is experiencing brain changes related to puberty, cerebral cortex development, and the pruning and strengthening process. Therefore, there could be long-term consequences such as a negative impact on the memory center of the brain. Check out A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain for more information.

3. Drinking and driving. You, with your fully developed brain, may find you can consume a standard drink (Standard drink sizes = 5 oz. of wine or 12 oz. of regular beer) with dinner at 6:00 and be okay to drive home at 9:00 p.m., but if your child is with you, they may interpret the behavior as a message that it’s safe to drink and drive. Explain to your teen how the body processes alcohol (see #4), which is why drinking and driving has dangerous consequences. Let them know it is not okay to get into a car with a friend who has had too much to drink – and that if a situation like that arises, they should give you a call.

4. Getting drunk in front of your children. Parents, if you’re going to drink in front of your children, stay within moderate drinking limits. Typically, if one waits until they “feel it,” it’s too late because alcohol is not digested like other foods or liquids — it is metabolized by the liver, which takes about one hour to be absorbed. Drinking more than the liver can metabolize changes how the brain functions. For more information, visit our Drug Guide.

5. Always celebrating with alcohol. When an event involves the kids, such as a Super Bowl party, wedding, backyard barbeque or their sports award program, and alcohol is being consumed by the adults, it sends the message that drinking is an important part of celebrations. To begin the conversation, try using a beer advertisement on TV as a teachable moment. Or, throw an alcohol-free event to show that one can have fun without drinking alcohol.

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