By the time kids reach eighth grade, nearly 50 percent have had at least one drink. Moreover, 62 percent of American high school seniors report they have been drunk. These alarming figures indicate teen alcohol use is on the rise. But, why are so many kids drinking today?
Naturally, some teens drink to be different or to experience a new and taboo sensation. For others, drinking is a manifestation of an impulsive, rebellious nature. But, many teens who drink are actually seeking an escape from powerful negative feelings. Some kids think, “I’m bummed out, and a drink will make me feel better.”
Yet, where do they learn this? For starters, mass advertising. Each day, we are bombarded by print, radio, and TV ads that sell beer, liquor, and wine. The ads associate drinking with positive activities like being romantic, likable, and cool. Alcohol use is also linked to happiness, wealth, athleticism, and sex. Tens desire all this and more. The cumulative effect of seeing thousands of these ads may influence teens to drink. As they enter high school, the messages they get from peers and even parents may bring them to the conclusion fun and alcohol are closely intermingled.
Above all, parents play a key role in a child’s behavior. Some unwittingly contribute to their kids’ drinking. The fact is: adolescent drinking has been significantly related to a lack of parental support, monitoring, and communication. Further, hostility towards kids has been a great predictor of teen drinking. Of course, child victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or other traumas are at a higher risk of becoming alcohol dependent. Given all this, it is vital that we support and nurture our children from day one.
It all starts with being a good role model. After all, children copy their parents. So a parent who drinks everyday or displays drunkenness is a poor role model. Further, when a child sees a parent drinking to escape frustration, chances are the child will emulate this behavior. Hence, each parent must take a good look at him or herself to see if changes must be made. In general, children with negative psychosocial influences often develop low self-esteem and as a result becomes ”people pleasers” in order to win friends. This can lead to behavior problems later in life.
Conversely, when kids see loving parents in a nurturing environment, they will likely grow up feeling good about themselves, and nurture others. Chances are these kids will surround themselves with similar friends. They will have a healthy sense of identity, and won’t easily compromise their values when temptation arises. Granted, some may experiment in order to be popular, especially in teen years. But, in general, kids who enjoy a healthy and consistent upbringing soon get back on track.
The key to preventing teenage drinking is for parents to educate kids about the consequences early in childhood. This will prepare them for the many pressures they will soon encounter in their teen years. Thus parents should arm themselves with the latest information and begin teaching kids about alcohol as early as age seven. Children at this age love to learn facts, especially strange ones, and they are eager to learn how things work. Also kids learn best when they are in happy loving environment and if the lesson is clear and to the point.
Specifically, parents should openly discuss the short- and long-term consequences of drinking. For starters, drinking impairs immediate judgment, which leads to poor choices. Parents must also explain the dangerous effects of alcohol on growing bodies. They must stress how it damages a young, developing brain and that drinking negatively affects memory, learning, growth, and success later in life.
TV shows or commercials about alcohol are fine opportunities to start a conversation. Parents can comment on the ads and point out the financial motivation behind sending a flawed message like alcohol makes you popular. Here, parents must introduce a new message: fun and alcohol are separate issues, and one is not required for the other. We must stress that having fun is a natural experience to enjoy, but alcohol is a poisonous chemical that is harmful to a kid’s health.
As children grow into teens, they may seem to tune out much of what parents say. But research shows parents are still the strongest influence on adolescents’ big decisions, like whether to smoke, drink, or have sex. Remember: rebellion can be a sign of growth. So parents must let teens speak their minds even if they disagree. Teens also tend to overestimate how many people are actually involved in risky behaviors. So parents must reassure children that ”everyone” is not drinking. Further, they must encourage kids to express themselves in healthy, productive ways.
All along parents must show respect for their children, and in turn, kids will most likely pay attention to parents’ opinions and values on tobacco and alcohol use. Respect will strengthen the lines of communication. However, nothing turns off a teen or preteen more than a lecture. So parents: take heed not to do all the talking.
Instead, ask questions and truly listen to your child’s answers, without judging or getting angry. Empathy involves seeing things from a child’s perspective in order to understand their feelings. Showing empathy teaches our kids that we value their thoughts and opinions. This helps them, in turn, to trust themselves. Such confidence will serve them well when peer pressure kicks in, and they are forced to make choices about drinking.
In the US, drinking alcohol has become a rite of passage. Yet, parents can arm themselves and their kids by learning the facts on alcohol use, and how it affects a young body and mind. New information, combined with open communication will go a long way to preventing alcohol dependency and emotional setbacks later in life.