Parents CAN Impact Their Teen’s Alcohol and Drug Use
The government reports that almost one-quarter of parents do not think they can influence their teens’ use of alcohol, drugs or tobacco. Nothing could be further from the truth. Several studies have proven that parents are one of the most important influencers on underage drinking and drug use.
As we enter the summer, it’s important for parents to know that risks for their teens increase. The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that more American teens try cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol for the first time in the summer than at any other time of year. For example, there is a 40 percent increase in first-time marijuana use among youth during June and July, as compared to the rest of the year. And, according to a news release from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and AAA, 7 of the 10 deadliest days for teen drivers occur during the summer. Car accidents are the number one cause of death among teens in the U.S., and 1 out of 3 teen drivers who die in car crashes are under the influence of alcohol. To keep their teens safe, parents must use their guidance to influence teens to make positive choices.
Research that Shows Parents are Important Influencers
In April 2014, a survey from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) showed that teens whose parents tell them that underage drinking is completely unacceptable are more than 80 percent less likely to drink than teens whose parents give them other messages about underage drinking. In contrast, 42 percent of teens who said their parents believed underage drinking was somewhat unacceptable, or completely acceptable, were drinkers.
Research released in 2012 by North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University, and the Pennsylvania State University proved that teens with strong bonds with their parents were less likely to have used marijuana or alcohol than students who were not as close to their families but were very involved in school and had many close peers.
The Partnership at Drugfree.org reports that children who had sipped alcohol by age 10 (usually provided by a parent) were nearly twice as likely to start drinking by age 14 or younger, compared with their peers who had not tasted alcohol when they were 10.
A recent RAND Health study reports that children who are drinking alcohol by 7th grade are more likely to suffer employment problems, abuse other drugs, and commit criminal and violent acts once they reach young adulthood. The U.S. Government estimates that, by the 8th grade, one-fourth of all adolescents have consumed alcohol to the point of intoxication. In addition, adolescent drinking plays a key role in the four leading causes of death among teens – car accidents, accidental injuries, homicides and suicides.
Experts agree that parents need to provide a very clear message that drug use of any kind is unacceptable, and drinking alcohol is unacceptable until the age of 21. More “watered down” messages backfire. Parents who allow their teens to have friends over to drink, thinking it’s a safe way to keep them off the roads, are not only giving their teens mixed messages, they may be surprised to find they are subject to liability laws that make them vulnerable to lawsuits, fines and jail time. Parents in some states can be liable even if they were not aware that drinking was going on in their home.
Best Ways for Parents to Prevent Alcohol and Drug Use
- Build a warm and supportive relationship with your teen. Take an interest in your teen’s hobbies, regularly discuss shared interests, and engage in activities together such as cooking or training for a race. When talking with your teen, speak calmly and avoid defensiveness or overreactions to information that they share with you. Become a resource to your teen by working through challenges together. Encourage their achievements, and give them an appropriate degree of independence.
- Be a good role model. When it comes to drugs, being a good role model means consuming only small amounts of alcohol with a meal or for a celebration, never driving after having a drink (even one), only using your prescription medication as instructed and never sharing them with others, and using only healthy methods for coping with stress (not wallowing your sorrows in a beer).
- Know your child’s friends. Meet your teen’s friends, and get to know them. Regularly discuss peer pressure with your teen. Help them to set high expectations for their friendships by talking about the qualities of good friends – what qualities they should be looking for in a friend and how they can be a good friend to others.
- Monitor, supervise, and set boundaries. Always know where your child is, who they are with, and what they are doing. Have firm, clear rules in place to keep them safe with appropriate consequences for breaking those rules.
- Have ongoing conversations. Talk regularly about risky behaviors. Make it a conversation by asking open-ended questions for their opinions. Make sure you state your disapproval of underage drinking and drug use. Teach your teen about the harmful effects of substance abuse.
The role of being a parent is to teach children to grow up responsibly and safe. Parents accomplish this goal by modeling appropriate behavior and providing teens with clear rules and boundaries.