5 Things Parents Should Know About Underage Drinking

Underage drinking is a big problem.
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Parents might assume or expect that their teen stays away from alcohol, but think back to your own teenage years--did you totally abstain before you reached legal age? If you’re honest with yourself, then you realize that it’s likely that your underage child has at least been offered an alcoholic beverage, if not already indulged in one.

So rather than assume, “My child would never do that,” it’s important to educate yourself about underage drinking.

Knowing the facts about underage drinking can help you prevent your teen from experimenting with alcohol.

1. It starts earlier than you think.

The average age that a boy first tries alcohol is a shockingly young 11, according to DoSomething.org, while a teenage girl often takes her first sip at age 13. In fact, in 2012, nearly three-fourths of students had drank alcohol by the end of high school and, surprisingly, more than one-third tried alcohol by eighth grade.

If you think you don’t have to worry about your child trying alcohol simply because you don’t think he’s old enough again, think again.

2. It has a longer-lasting effect than you might expect.

Teens who start drinking at age 15 are five times more likely to become dependent on alcohol later in life than those who wait until age 21 or later. The effects of alcohol on an underage brain can change that brain’s development, which can have lifelong effects.

Underage drinking has immediate consequences, too. Teenagers who drink heavily are three times more likely to try to hurt themselves via self-harm or attempted suicide, and often are the victims or perpetrators of physical or sexual assault. In school, a student that drinks is often plagued by high absence rates or poor grades and more often gets in fights.

And, of course, there’s the consequence that a parent never wants to think about--death. The CDC’s data from 2006 to 2010 determined that alcohol factored into the death of more than 4,300 underage people each year, including 1,580 car crashes, 1,269 homicides, nearly 500 suicides and almost 250 from alcohol poisoning, burns, falls or drowning.

3. Teens drink more in one session, often binge-drinking.

When a teenager drinks, he doesn’t do so with safety in mind. While a teenager might drink less frequently than an adult, he typically “binge drinks,” meaning he consumes more alcohol on one occasion--most often defined as 5 or more drinks in a row for a male and 4 or more for a female. Binge drinking significantly increases the risk of alcohol poisoning and making dangerous decisions.

4. It’s not always safe or legal to serve your teens in your own home.

Some parents think the safest place for their teens (and friends) to drink is at home; however, many states have laws on the books about this situation.

Certain states have “social host” laws that holds parents liable if an underage teen is drinking in their home, even if there are no ramifications. In other states, a parent can be held accountable if a teenager is in a car accident or similar situation after drinking in their home.

5. Your behavior can make a difference.

The way you drink around your child can influence their behavior; if your teen sees you regularly drink to excess or engage in risky behaviors, such as driving after too many drinks, then he will likely have the mindset that it’s normal to do so.

This influence starts earlier than you might think. At age 6, a child typically thinks that alcohol is only for adults, but by age 9, they start to think that how you consume alcohol is OK. It’s never too early to have a discussion about safe alcohol behaviors.

It doesn’t have to be a normal occurrence for a teen to drink. Talk to your child about the risks of alcohol consumption, and make it clear that you expect him to wait until he’s of legal age to imbibe.

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