Talking to Your Teen about Underage Drinking

By Halley McIntyre, Program Manager, Mothers Against Drunk Driving

teen drinkingAn ounce of preparation, as Ben Franklin so wisely noted, truly is worth a pound of cure.  This fundamental idea is never more important than when it comes to our kids.  The conversations we have with them early, and often, can have a huge impact on the decisions they make later in life, and help to shape to their entire future.

One of the most important places to put this into practice is when it comes to conversations about underage drinking.  It’s vital to be able to talk with your children about this dangerous activity, and to make sure that your expectations come across loud and clear.  Let them know without a doubt that you expect them not to drink before they’re 21, lay out the consequences for doing so ahead of time, and make sure to always follow through with these consequences.  Consistency and defined boundaries are a hallmark of great parenting, and will set the tone for good decision-making when they’re faced with the difficult choices of the teenage years.

Friends, schoolmates and media all have an influence on teens, but the good news is, parents are still #1!  A national survey shows that 74% of teens name their parents as the biggest influencer in their decisions about drinking.  So let them know how you feel!  They’re listening!

It also always helps to come to the conversation armed with information, because you’re guaranteed to get questions from those sharp and inquisitive kids of yours!  So, here is some information you can share with your teen about why it’s so important to stay away from underage drinking

  1. It’s illegal! Breaking the laws about underage drinking can bring many consequences, including fines and fees, to license suspension, and a criminal record that can make getting hired or getting scholarships more difficult even years after the fact.
  2. It’s dangerous! Teens who drink underage are far more likely to get in violent fights, fall into sexual situations they’re not prepared for, and make the frightening choice to drive intoxicated – a choice that contributes to the deaths of the 10,000 people killed in impaired driving crashes every year.
  3. It’s deadly! Plainly speaking, underage drinking kills. Teens are much more likely to binge-drink than adults, which can lead to liver damage, brain damage, or even fatal alcohol poisoning. The CDC has released scary numbers that show that there are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in this country every year.  That works out about 6 deaths per day.  It might seem to teens to be a harmless activity, but the reality is, it can be a fatal one.
  4. It’s addictive! People who start drinking before the age of 13 have a 45% chance of developing a lifelong alcohol addiction.  Biology plays a huge part in this.  Also, if you teach yourself at such a young age that drinking is the only way to have fun, you begin framing all your activities around it, and it can be an almost impossible thought process to undue.

All these reasons stem from one simple fact – the teenage brain is still developing!  Science proves that the brain isn’t fully developed until around age 25, and the teenage years contain the biggest growth spurt since infancy.  In fact, the last part of the brain to develop fully is the executive “decision-making” center, where foresight and good judgement dictate many of our actions.  If you mix alcohol with a growing brain, it’s a recipe for impulsivity and addiction.

Talk early, talk often.  You can make all the difference in the world to your teen!