Some parents may give their kids booze, with the warning that they can only drink at home. They may think that's the safest way to keep their teens in line — that they would just party with their friends somewhere else anyway.
In fact, a surprising new government study found that 40% of the nearly 11 million 12- to 20-year-olds drinkers get their alcohol directly from a grown-up, which is sometimes Mom or Dad.
Looking at two national surveys from 2002 and 2006, the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) analyzed underage drinking, which contributes to the deaths of more than 5,000 kids each year.
What they found:
- A staggering 650,000 of the kids were given alcohol by their own parents in the past month. And 30% were in their own home when they had their last drink.
- About 3.5 million 12- to 20-year-olds (nearly 10%) could be considered as having an "alcohol use disorder" (when they're dependent on or regularly abuse alcohol).
- More than 7 million have engaged in binge drinking, downing five or more drinks at least once in the past month.
What This Mans to You
During the teen years, kids are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and defy their parents' wishes or instructions as a way of asserting their independence. If you suspect that your child is drinking, it's time to sit down and talk. Try to get some honest information (like how much, how often, where, and with whom).
To help kids make the right decisions about alcohol, no matter what their age:
- Never buy or give any child under the age of 21 alcohol. When grown-ups offer kids a drink, that just sends the message that it's perfectly OK — and safe — to drink underage. Plus, if anything tragic happens (an accident, injury, alcohol poisoning) you'll be the one who's responsible.
- Establish firm rules — and consequences — for using any alcohol at all.
- Give them the lowdown about what alcohol does to their bodies. On top of the real possibility of a dangerous or even deadly overdose, drinking can have serious side effects like distorted vision, hearing, and coordination; altered perceptions and emotions; and impaired judgment — which can lead to accidents, drowning, and other risky behaviors like unsafe sex. Plus, getting drunk or high can make girls extremely vulnerable to crimes like sexual assault and date rape.
- Motivate them to make the right decisions by giving freedoms like a later curfew or a driver's license. Teach them that freedom comes only with responsibility.
- Arm them with ways to respond to peer pressure. Some kids might feel confident simply saying "no, thanks." But also offer alternative responses like, "Beer makes me feel sick to my stomach." Or, let them blame you: "My dad said I'd be grounded for a month if I drink."
- Encourage kids to walk away from friends who don't respect their decision not to drink.
- Talk about the legal issues — that it's against the law for kids to buy or drink alcohol.
- Remind them to leave any situation that feels uncomfortable. Make sure they have money for transportation or a phone number where you or another responsible adult can be reached.
- Emphasize that it's never OK to drive when they've been drinking or using drugs or to get in the car with someone who has. You might even want to offer to pick them up — no questions asked — if they're ever in a bad situation. This can help encourage kids to be honest and call when they need help.
- Know their friends. Kids who hang around with peers who drink, smoke, or do drugs are more likely to try it themselves. Ask if any of their friends' siblings or parents ever give them alcohol.
- Be involved and show interest. Pay attention to how your kids are feeling and let them know that you're always there to listen. Recognize when they're going through tough times and provide unconditional love and support.
Don't wait to talk about the dangers of alcohol (as well as drugs and tobacco) until the stressful peer pressure of adolescence kicks in. Start the discussions early and continue the say-no message throughout childhood and well into the teen years.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2008