November 27, 2007
The Perils of Teenage Drinking
We had a very disturbing weekend.
It centered around an issue that far too many parents either don’t take seriously enough or bury their heads in the sand and avoid altogether.
I’m talking about teenage drinking.
Fortunately, the weekend turmoil resulted not from my own kids’ drinking but from the ignorance and denial exhibited by other parents. But before I climb up on my soapbox, let’s take a look at some frightening statistics.
Currently, alcohol use among young people under 21 is the leading drug problem in the U.S. According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University:
• More youths in the U.S. drink alcohol than smoke tobacco or marijuana, making it the drug most used by young Americans.
• Every day, 5,400 young people under 16 take their first drink of alcohol.
• In 2005, one out of six eighth-graders, one in three tenth-graders, and nearly one out of two twelfth-graders were current drinkers.
• In 2004, more than 7 million youths ages 12 to 20 reported binge drinking, which is defined as “having five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the past 30 days.”
In addition, recent surveys have also found that:
• Girls are binge drinking more, while boys are binging less or increasing their binging at a slower rate than their female peers.
• Twelfth-grade female drinkers and binge drinkers are now more likely to drink distilled spirits than beer.
• The new "Alco pops" are particularly attractive to girls, and are most popular with the youngest drinkers.
The consequences of underage drinking are heartbreaking:
• Every day, three teens die from drinking and driving.
• At least six more youths under 21 die each day in non-driving alcohol-related cases, such as homicide, suicide and drowning.
• More than 70,000 college students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape each year.
• Recent studies have found that heavy exposure to alcohol may interfere with adolescent brain development, causing loss of memory and other skills.
For a complete report of this Executive Summary, please see http://camy.org/research/status0306/
A Parent In Denial
These are sobering statistics, ones that every parent should take note of. So why is it that most of the parents I talk seem to be in complete denial?
This weekend, my husband and I were awakened at 1:20 a.m. by a parent who called to tell us that our son had been drinking and was running around drunk. When I asked what made him think our son was drunk, he claimed that our son and several others had been in his house drinking (unsupervised), and took off when he and his wife came home.
Not surprisingly, this parent sounded quite upset. Because the drinking took place in his home, he was worried about what would happen if any of the boys in question got in trouble or, worse, got killed in a car crash.
I asked him to calm down, and explained that my son was already home. Although he did have one beer while at his friend’s house, he wasn’t drunk and he wasn’t driving. Moreover, all the other boys involved were at home and safe in bed.
At that point, the parent flew into a rage, saying he couldn’t believe that I knew my son drinks and questioning my fitness as a parent. When I asked if he knew that his own son drinks, he insisted that I didn’t know what I was talking about and ordered my son to stay out of his house.
The sad part is, his response did not shock or even surprise me very much. In fact, I have had this conversation (or ones very much like it) with parents on a regular basis. For some reason, parents don’t want to acknowledge that their kids drink, smoke, or try drugs. Of course, other kids do these kinds of things, but never their own.
This Is Your Wakeup Call!
I happen to know that this particular parent’s son has a serious drinking problem. Not only does he drink too often and too much (often during school), he also drives when he drinks. Yet, his parents refuse to acknowledge that he drinks at all, much less has a drinking problem.
Obviously, not every teenager has a drinking problem. But the harsh reality is this — like it or not, your kids will try cigarettes, alcohol and at least one recreational drug. Their behavior afterwards, and the choices they continue to make regarding alcohol and drugs, will depend to a large extent on your reaction to those experiments.
Instead of getting bent out of shape and claiming that it can’t or won’t happen in your house, please talk to your kids and listen without judgment. Allow your teenage children to confide in you, so that you can be there for them and guide them when they get into questionable situations.
My kids know — because I have told them again and again — that while I don’t support their drinking, I will be there for them (and all of their friends) if they should become inebriated. No matter what time of day or night, I will pick them up and drive everyone home if they don’t have a sober driver.
Even at fabulously forty we can still make bad choices, and we sometimes pay a hefty price when we do. So it’s natural to want to prevent our kids from doing the same.
But it’s far more important that our kids know that we love them and will be there for them when they do make a mistake.
Our children are a reflection on us, and we want them to be perfect. But as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect world. The way I see it, we have two choices. We can choose to have kids that are not so perfect but are alive and well, or we can choose to be ignorant of their faults and risk losing them.
Personally, I choose the first option. For your sake and that of your teenagers, I hope you do the same.