Parenting Ph.D. Staff
Today 11,500 teens between the ages of 12-17 will take their first drink. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), first time underage drinking snowballs during the month of December. Numerous celebrations, more liquor than usual in the house, and holiday customs are just a few possible factors. On this last day of the old year, teens, like their adult counterparts, may be preparing for New Year’s Eve parties. Here is a compilation of advice from experts as well as teens themselves. If parents follow these steps, there is a very good chance their children will be around to see a new year.
TALK TO YOUR TEEN BEFORE THE PARTY.
The choice of preposition is not accidental. It’s important to talk to teens, not at them. They don’t need a lecture or a sermon, just a caring parent. Research shows that parents, not peers, have the greatest influence over their child’s decision to drink or abstain. Listening is even better than talking. Asking open-ended questions and posing “what-if” scenarios help teens arrive on their own at the same conclusions as their elders and allow them to prepare for situations they may sooner or later encounter. Peers and the internet are shaky points of reference when it comes to alcohol. It may take some conversational work but parents can position themselves as the go-to source of information on drinking. Kids need to know parents are approachable but at the same time they need to understand unequivocally their folks’ stand on drinking. Talk. They Hear You is an interactive site where teen avatars help parents rehearse positive conversations about alcohol. www.samhsa.gov/underagedrinking/
BE A ROLE MODEL.
Plan some fun New Year’s Eve activities that don’t involve alcohol. If Uncle Jerry can’t have fun without a glass in his hand, see to it that his invitation gets lost in the mail.
HELP YOUR CHILD EXIT GRACEFULLY.
Sometimes even the nicest group of teens can fall prey to temptation. When alcohol suddenly appears and things start to go sideways, kids may want to leave a party but don’t know how to do it without losing their “swag”. They may be afraid to ride home with friends who have been drinking but don’t want to look uncool in front of their peers. Parents and teens should agree in advance on a private rescue phrase that means, “Come pick me up”. The teen can slip out and rendezvous with the parent who is waiting halfway down the block. Kids should also prepare in advance to deal with peer pressure and offers of alcohol. “No thanks, I have to get up early,” “Sorry, I still have to hit another party tonight,” and other ready excuses can get kids out of drinking with their peer standing intact.
When the rescue ride home is over, it’s over. The teen has risked friendships and punishment to do the right thing. Don’t make him or her sorry. There will be many other opportunities for conversations about alcohol before the child becomes an adult but this night is not fodder for those talks. (“See, I told you that Sally was no good!”) If parents ignore this final step, the next time the phone call comes in it might be from the police…or worse.
Editor’s Note: 11,500 kids will take their first drink today. For some, it will be a rite of passage. For others, alcohol will become a personal demon. Children who drink early and often are at greater risk for alcoholism. Be sure to read Jaclyn Best’s accompanying article on problem drinking. For more tools see the teen section of our Parent Resources www.dcparenting.org .