Our modern world is so complicated and creates many pressures for teenagers. While technology makes it seem as though the world is very different, some age old problems can still affect our kids. And, as parents, we can’t always shield our children from negative influences from the media or from our children’s peers. One of the most dangerous influences includes the use and abuse of alcohol.
From print ads to coming of age films to Sunday Night Football games, the lure of alcohol is all around. According to the CDC, underage drinking is a major public health issue. Eleven percent of the alcohol consumed in the United States is drunk by youth 12 to 20 years of age. Illegal in all 50 states, alcohol use by anyone under 21 has serious legal consequences for children and sometimes their parents.
How to Tell if Your Child is Drinking
During the teen years, children become more secretive. As they try to figure out the changes in their bodies, their place in their community, and explore limitations, parents may notice that their children are developing new, and sometimes, dissatisfying habits that are in the normal course of development. However, there are key signs that parents should not ignore that could indicate that their son or daughter is experimenting or drinking alcohol. Any combination of these signs could be an indication:
1. Decline in grades and negative behavior in school
2. Mood swings and/or personality changes
3. Change in peer group or more negative friends, which are known to experiment or use alcohol
4. Excessive use of heavy mouth washes or mints
5. Change in appetite and increased complaints about stomach problems
6. Unusual need for extra money
7. Change in physical appearance
8. Missing alcoholic beverages or specific medicines from home
09. Obvious physical signs of red eyes, slurring speech and poor coordination
If several of these warning signs describe your child’s behavior, you may want to investigate further. Your child may be having problems in school, the community or even in your home. Ignorance is never bliss in parenting and continued problems could put your child at risk of physical injury, health problems, school and legal trouble.
Self-Evaluation, Confrontation and Communication
Before you approach your child about possibly having an alcohol problem, you need to consider your own relationship with alcohol. Do you socially drink? Have you ever drunk in excess? Does a close relative drink? In most cases, one in every five people, know an alcoholic. Once you self evaluate, you need to figure out the best way to approach your child.
Alcohol, though better regulated than most, is a drug. There are dangers that your child may face by using or being around people who use drugs. Studies show that some high schoolers binge drink, drive while drunk or ride with others who have been drinking. As a parent, you must discuss these issues you’re your child. If your child becomes resistant to having the “don’t use alcohol” conversation, you must be persistent. If your child denies use, you won’t be able to home test like you would for other illegal substances. The human body metabolizes alcohol more quickly than marijuana. If your child confesses, then you need to take the next step and discover what is compelling them to drink and possibly abuse alcohol.
Underlying depression, low self esteem, needing to be accepted, unrealized stresses can all be culprits in your child’s alcohol use. Deal with these carefully. Do not become preachy or belligerent. Be open and even talk about getting counseling or other help.
The Plan for Action
Teens that consume alcohol are bright and often athletic individuals and they don’t view drinking a few beers as a real problem. However, there are daily reports of teens driving and dying drunk or teens being arrested for public drunkenness and vandalism. Drinking teens are troubled teens.
You can seek help from a psychologist if your child’s drinking is related to internal family issues or parental alcohol issues. Medical professionals can provide individual and family counseling. However, there are also community- based and out-of-home placements programs that offer provide alcohol and prevention services, such as In-Patient Substance Abuse Programs.
Sometimes, teens just need someone to speak with them- one-on-one. In these cases, in-home programs are a great resource. Youth can receive private and individualized counseling and guidance from a trained professional who comes to the home.
In those rare cases where your child’s alcohol use results in court involvement, Juvenile Drug Treatment Court (JDTC) programs or Crisis Center/Residential Treatment Facilities may be an option. Compliance with these programs may be offered in lieu of restitution, detention time or juvenile commitment.
Also, many states, including Florida, have taken a “Zero Tolerance” approach to underage drinking. They are enforcing stricter laws on college campuses, state roadways, and even in schools. Parents, based on many Parental Responsibility Acts, may be liable for any damages linked to their child’s underage drinking.
In the United States, nearly 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking each year. Of this number, almost 2000 deaths occur as a result of motor vehicle accidents. While media campaigns, stricter laws, and community based programs may be part of the solution, a teen and his or her family need to have open and honest dialog in order to find a solution that works for the benefit of themselves and their family.