The truth about teens and alcohol

We’ve all been through our teen years and had to deal with peer pressure and alcohol. Back then, no one warned me about the risks of alcohol, binge drinking and alcohol poisoning – not my parents, not my school and not my friends. I can’t say for certain if this knowledge would have influenced my decisions much at that age, but I would like to think so.

As a parent, I want to talk to my kids openly about the effects of alcohol. First and foremost, I want my teen to delay drinking alcohol for as long as possible. I am not delusional, I get the teen years. But as a public health nurse, I can’t hide that I know about the effects of alcohol on the developing teen brain. So my number one goal as a parent is to help my teen to delay, delay, delay!

Okay, how do I do this? How do I delay my teen from drinking? All of you parents of teens out there are likely chuckling at me right now. You can’t really make your teen do anything, can you? Teens are usually faced with these situations when you are not around, so the best you can do is to educate them, talk to them and prepare them.

Know that you are influential! Be clear about how you feel; Tell them why you are afraid of them drinking by using language like, “I don’t want you to drink at this time of your life. It affects your developing brain and can put your safety at risk.” Discuss the risks associated with alcohol, including alcohol poisoning and doing things they would never otherwise do.

Help them say no by talking about what to say in a social situation. Ask them how they might say no to alcohol, and help them to come up with answers that will allow them to save face, for example, having to work the next day; having a big game; or that their mom and dad will smell it on them.

Although it is illegal in Ontario to drink alcohol when under the age of 19, we know that it happens in Halton. The Halton Youth Survey states that 34% of grade 10 students have had a least one episode of heavy drinking (five or more drinks on one occasion) over the last year. That means 1/3 of young teens are binge drinking and evidence shows that teens are more susceptible to the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

So after being clear that you do not want them to drink alcohol, know that some teens do. So educate your teen, because it can have a protective factor.

Be a good role model by keeping your own alcohol consumption within the Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. Do not supply your teen or their friends with alcohol.

Set expectations for how they should behave and continue to monitor your teen. Don’t be fooled by thinking that having a parent present in the home when there is a teen drinking party will prevent the harmful or legal consequences of under-age drinking. It does not. In fact some recent studies have found that adult-supervised teen drinking can actually increase the potential for problems with teen drinking.

So start the conversation with your teen tonight. Do you have anything to share with us?

For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.