A parent s guide for talking to teens about alcohol

A parent’s guide for talking to teens about alcohol All of us hope our kids are not harmed by alcohol. Have a plan to prevent harm. Talk to your kids...
Author: Muriel Hart
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A parent’s guide for talking to teens about alcohol

All of us hope our kids are not harmed by alcohol. Have a plan to prevent harm. Talk to your kids about alcohol. Most Park County parents (77%) read this booklet to find important facts and useful ideas for talking to teens about alcohol. 1



A Wyoming parent’s story Dealing with teens and alcohol is not easy. But you are not alone. Other parents share your concern about alcohol. And other parents share your hope for keeping your kids safe. Most parents make plans to address alcohol because having a plan will help you keep your kids safe. Your plan should include: • Getting the facts • Talking to your teens Alcohol use is too risky to leave to chance.


A true story as shared by a Park County mother I AM A MOTHER OF TWO CHILDREN. My husband and I live in an average Wyoming community in Park County. We have wonderful children. We are active church members. The night our 15 year-old son got an MIP (minor in possession) for alcohol I was totally shocked. I have since learned this is a common misperception of parents. The vast majority of parents think underage drinking is a problem that other parents face. Parents significantly underestimate the likelihood that their teen could be drinking—I was one of those parents. My son is not bad. He is a good kid who just made a bad choice. His decision opened my eyes. He knew it was wrong; he knew we would be very upset if he chose to drink. He was with a small group of friends and got caught up in the moment—he said he just wasn’t thinking. Of course, I know my children are going to do things I won’t know about. I remember doing things my parents didn’t know about. But I thought I would know if he was drinking. I was wrong. This is another one of those parent misperceptions: as parents, we think we would know if our kids are drinking, but many surveys of teens reveal that they can drink without their parents knowing it. As a fellow parent, I hope this booklet opens your eyes. Alcohol is not some other family’s issue. It is not about some other family’s kids. It is about your kids. The statistics make it very clear: by 12th grade, 68% of Park County seniors have tried alcohol, and 40% of seniors report drinking alcohol in the past month. 2 Wake up—all those kids can’t be “some other parent’s teens,” they are our teens.

By 12th grade, 68% of Park County seniors have tried alcohol. 2

It was hard for me to deal with this issue. As a parent, when I found out my son was drinking I felt as if I had failed. Maybe this fear of failing led me to be overconfident. Maybe I didn’t ask those extra questions of my son or follow-up as closely because on some level I didn’t want to know. Now I have realized that kids make mistakes, and it doesn’t mean I am a bad parent. I have used my experience to learn more. I encourage you to learn from my experience. Don’t be afraid to ask and find out what is really going on. Don’t make assumptions. It is not about good and bad kids. The overwhelming majority of our kids are great—including my son. However, good kids can make bad choices, and we as parents need to learn more about what we can do to reduce underage drinking. —A Wyoming Mom



The risks Alcohol is a powerful, mind-altering drug that slows down the body and mind. It impairs coordination; slows reaction time; and impairs vision, clear thinking and judgment. Impaired driving is a major concern related to alcohol use. Alcohol related accidents are one of the leading causes of death for 15-24 year olds. 3 Alcohol is also responsible for life-altering events that can affect your child’s physical, emotional and mental health. Because drinking causes loss of control, it leads to behavior teens later regret. Physical Injuries or Death

Alcohol use results in accidents that cause physical injury or death. • auto • drowning • suicide • homicide • alcohol poisoning


Use at an early age significantly increases the chance of dependency on alcohol.

Use of Other Drugs

Alcohol reduces inhibitions and therefore greatly increases likelihood of trying other drugs.

Academic Failure

Sexual Activity

Violent Behavior

Consequences if Caught

Alcohol use results in: • poor attendance • decreased attention in school work • problems with conduct/behavior Alcohol use results in: • starting at an earlier age • having more partners • unplanned pregnancy • contracting sexually transmitted infections/diseases Alcohol use results in increased chance of: • fighting • rape • aggravated assault • robbery • family • school • legal

Most high school students (69%) agree that students risk harming themselves if they drink.1 Most Park County adults (93%) agree that drinking by high school students is harmful. 1



Who’s at risk? Wyoming law Most Park County adults (95%) agree local law enforcement should strongly enforce laws regulating underage alcohol use. 4 Most Park County adults (96%) agree high school teachers and administrators should enforce school policies regarding underage drinking. 1 Most Park County adults (57%) are very likely to report an underage drinking party to the police. 1 Most Park County adults (92%) agree adults who supply alcohol to underage youth in violation of Wyoming law should be prosecuted. 4 Source of Last Drink: When Park County high school students who drink were asked where they got their last drink, 39% reported from an adult over 21 who was not their parent and 17% reported from someone under the age of 21. 2

High school youth who report drinking monthly: 5 47% female vs. 53% male 41% honor students vs. 59% non-honor students 52% athletes vs. 48% non-athletes There is no “typical” youth who drinks. All our kids are at risk.

A minor in possession Any person under the age of 21 who has any alcohol in his/her possession or who is drunk or under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance is guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalty is up to six months in jail, up to $750 fine, or both.

A minor driving while under the influence of alcohol Any person under the age of 21 who is driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.02%* or more is guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalty is up to a $750 fine. Subsequent offenses may result in up to six months in jail. Also included in the penalty is suspension of the driver’s license. *A blood alcohol level of 0.02% is the minimal detectable level and would result from consuming any alcohol.

Furnishing alcohol to a minor It is illegal to furnish alcohol to any person under the age of 21 who is not a member of your own immediate family or legal ward. The penalty is up to six months in jail, up to $750 fine, or both.

Social hosting This is a misdemeanor for anyone—owner or renter—who allows a party in which alcohol or illegal drugs are possessed or consumed by minors. The penalty is up to six months in jail, up to a $750 fine, or both.

Park County Schools The use or possession of alcoholic beverages by students is prohibited in any of the school buildings, on the school grounds, at school functions, on school busses, or while on school sponsored trips. Students are not permitted to be in school buildings, on school grounds, or at school functions while under the invluence. Consequences of usage include involvement with law enforcement, school suspension and possible expulsion. School Athletics/Activities—Students participating in athletics/activities are held accountable and face consequences for using alcohol, tobacco or other illegal drugs—even if usage is done away from school grounds.



The teenage brain One of the principal roles of the brain’s frontal lobe is to inhibit actions, or in other words, keep us from doing things that we know we shouldn’t do. So, although parents tell their child about the harmful consequences of choosing to drink or try other drugs, and although teens tell parents they understand, all of the brain matter required to apply their knowledge at the right time may not be there. This is why it is so important for parents to not only teach their children, but also to guide and monitor them. Working with a brain not fully developed requires ongoing guidance and monitoring. Even though a teen may know about alcohol risks and is a good kid, in certain circumstances, they may still choose to drink. “I just wasn’t thinking” is partially true because of their developing brains. Because teens are very “now” oriented, the situation has a greater impact on their decision making than parents realize. “I can remember the first time I drank. It was not a planned event. It just happened.” Alcohol consumption by young people has a dramatic impact on their ability to learn. Research shows kids who drink a lot of alcohol lose 10% of their brain power (the difference between a pass or fail). 6 “… drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults… Underage alcohol use is associated with brain damage and neuro-cognitive deficits.” 7 “Learning about all the changes going on in the teenage brain helped me realize the importance of addressing alcohol with my teen as well as helped me understand better ways to do it.” —a Wyoming parent


80% 70%


60% 50%

Park County Alcohol Usage 2 tried at least once


31% 24%



drank in past 30 days Heavy drinking (five or more drinks in two hours)




13% 7%

The brain is finished developing by age 10.

What science is revealing… The human brain undergoes massive changes on the onset of puberty and is not completely developed until the midtwenties. 8

We used to believe… Drinking alcohol is a rite of passage.

What science is revealing… Early use of alcohol can cause permanent learning disabilities. 7 Early use of alcohol significantly (by over 5 times) increases the chances of alcohol abuse or dependence later in life. 9

We used to believe… The greatest concern about underage drinking is drinking and driving.

What science is revealing… Alcohol’s impact on the brain may make youth more likely to engage in many risky behaviors. Underage alcohol use increases the likelihood of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, initiation of other drug use, and fatal accidents.

We used to believe… Providing accurate information to teens (and even younger children) is the best strategy for preventing use.

What science is revealing…


40% 30%

We used to believe…

The last part of the brain to fully develop is the frontal lobe—that part of the brain which allows us to inhibit our actions and allows us to predict the consequences of decisions. 10 Accurate information must be coupled with guidance and monitoring to prevent use.



The age a person starts using alcohol matters Changing teenage brains may make them more likely to become addicted to substances. Changes in the brain (and especially the brain chemistry) may make trying substances during the teenage years even more risky than trying them later in life. The fact is, people who reported starting to drink before age 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. 11 The longer a person delays using alcohol, the less likely they are to have problems with alcohol.


45% First used before age 15







15% First used at age 21





Percentage dependent or abusing alcohol later in life 12



Another form of peer pressure: Misperceiving what others are doing When Park County students are asked how often they think most of the people in their school drink, their responses are shocking. The overwhelming majority (87%) of high school students believe that most young people drink on a monthly basis. 2 In reality, just the opposite is true: 64% of high school students don’t drink on a monthly basis. 13 This drastic over-perception of alcohol use reflects the idea that young people think “everyone is drinking.” A person who overestimates alcohol usage and other risky behaviors is more likely to engage in those behaviors. The misperception results in more youth thinking it is OK to try alcohol, making it harder for youth to choose not to drink. Misperception leads to higher use. 14 The fact is most teens are NOT drinking alcohol. Be sure your teen knows this. You and your youth need to understand the facts: 50% of US adults

• less than once/month


don’t drink, 78% of adults don’t smoke cigarettes, 15 65% of high school students don’t drink on a monthly basis, and 75% of high school students don’t smoke. 2 The better your teen understands the facts, the easier it will be for them to refuse alcohol when the situation arises. Students may respond to this information by saying that everyone lied on the survey. This is a perfectly natural response precisely because their perceptions are that everyone drinks. However, several surveys and studies support the same results. It is important not to make your teen feel that they are wrong—just that it is easy to misperceive what most people do. All humans are susceptible to over perceiving other people’s behaviors—even parents, who tend to overestimate overall alcohol usage and underestimate risky behavior by their own children.

• less than once/month

• once or twice/month

• once or twice/month

•once or more/week

•once or more/week




70% 60%

Park County alcohol usage 5

50% 40%



How often do you think most students use alcohol?







How often do you use alcohol?



TALKING How to Approach It

Listen & Talk with Your Teen It is important to talk to your teen on a regular basis regarding alcohol and other drugs—do not assume that your teen knows how you feel. It is equally important though to listen to what your teen has to say. Encourage conversation and make it a positive experience. Discuss subjects that interest your teen. Be attentive and interested, don’t interrupt. You are encouraging future discussions regarding more difficult subjects.

Listen • Ask open-ended questions (try to avoid questions that have just “yes” or “no” answers). • Encourage your teen to express their thoughts and feelings. • Make it clear you are listening and understanding their point of view. Don’t interrupt but repeat what you think they are saying and ask for clarification if necessary. • Try not to respond with anger when you hear something you don’t like. Breathe deeply and respond constructively. • Let them know you respect their views—they’ll be more likely to respect yours.

Anytime is a good time. Conversations about alcohol and other drug use can happen anytime—just hanging out, cooking a meal, fishing, listening to music, watching a ball game, playing games together, driving in the car, or going for a walk. It does not have to be long or a serious talk; it is not a conversation you only have once—have it regularly. Keeping open, friendly lines of communication between you and your teen is a key component of an effective prevention strategy. Change the discussion with your teen from “right and wrong” to “not now.” The information about brain development can be an important way to communicate to your teen why you do not want them to use alcohol. It is often hard for a parent to say that it is wrong for teens to do something that adults are allowed to do. One approach is to talk about brain development. The issue lies in the fact that teens are not just young adults. The effects of alcohol are different for teens than adults. The drinking age of 21 was NOT determined based on a notion of adulthood. The age was determined by analyzing highway fatality statistics—the age was calculated based on science. Scientists did not know at the time, but it also roughly corresponds to brain development maturity as well.

Make your discussion more than: Parent: “You don’t drink, do you?” Youth: “No.” Parent: “Good.”

“After studying this material, I now ask a lot more questions and I listen a lot more. I want to be more informed and more connected.” —a Wyoming father

TALKING What to Talk About

There’s a lot to talk about! • Risks (see pages 3-4) • Facts (see pages 5-7) • Strategies/Skills (see page 11) • Family history: If you have a family history of alcohol dependence or abuse, share this with your children. It is important for them to understand that this may make them more susceptible to problems. Research clearly shows that people with a family history of problems with alcohol are more likely to have problems themselves. The pattern is very clear. • Expectations: Set limits for your teen, let them know you do not want them in risky situations. Set and enforce clear rules about alcohol and other drugs. Let your teen know what the rules are and what will happen if they are broken. It is important to be consistent and follow through with the consequences. Examples could include: • People under 21 will not drink alcohol. • Leave a party where there is alcohol. • Don’t ride in a car if the driver has been drinking. • Be home by your curfew. • You are monitoring: It is important that they know that you know where they are. Use a curfew and require that they call you periodically. This will help them keep you in mind as they make choices throughout the evening.


“One of the biggest challenges for parents is the children’s idea that their parents are the only ones being so strict. It helps a lot to know other parents are using the same guidelines.” —Park County Parent

77% of Park County high school youth think parents should set clear rules and expectations about avoiding harmful behavior. 1 Most Park County adults (74%) agree that it is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol. 1 Most parents (71%) always use a curfew. 1


TALKING Conversation Starters

Alcohol & Advertising • Discussing alcohol advertising and how alcohol is portrayed in television can be a good starting point for interesting conversations with your teen. Do they think the commercial is targeting them? Why or why not? Do they think the commercial is funny? Appealing? What age group is the advertiser trying to reach? • Youth exposure to alcohol advertising on U.S. television increased 71% between 2001 and 2009. 16

Alcohol and Adults • Other interesting questions or comments can be around how much people drink. Do adults, like youth, overperceive how much drinking their peers do? In certain settings, do adults feel pressure to drink? How do adults handle these situations? How do adults who use alcohol stay safe? All of these are good questions to foster more honest conversations.

Opening Lines Here are some suggested opening lines to help you start the conversation. • I’ve been thinking lately that I’ve never actually told you this: I don’t want you using alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs. • I love you and I want the best for you, so I don’t want you using alcohol or any other drug. • If you are at a party and see that drugs or alcohol are being used, the rule is to leave the party. Call me and I’ll come and get you. • I don’t want you in a car with a driver who’s been drinking or using any drugs. • I love you but you have to know that I am your parent, not one of your friends.

Media By monitoring what your teen is watching on television, in movies and on the internet, you can find many opportunities to discuss alcohol and other drugs. You might ask: • Why do you think that they are drinking or using other drugs? • Where do you think this person would end up in life? • I wonder what his/her family thinks about them drinking or getting high? What do you think? • Is this real? Are they showing everything that can happen—what is missing? • How can I help you avoid pressures to drink?

TALKING Strategies


Refusal Skills and Strategies As adults, we think of saying no to friends as an easy thing to do. “Just say no.” However, from the perspective of a teenager, saying no to their friends is as bold as an adult slapping their boss.2 It is much harder that we think for teens to say no to their friends. To decline offers and help them avoid risky situations, they may say: • Not right now. • My mom/dad would kill me. • I don’t want to risk not being able to play sports (or participate in other school activities). • If I drink, I lose my driving privileges. It’s not worth it. • I’ve got to get home soon. I have a big day tomorrow. • You know I like you, but I’m not into that kind of stuff. • No thanks, I’ll get a Pepsi. • Back off. Why do you keep asking me when I said no? Help your teen learn how to say no in other ways and have them role play with you. As awkward or corny as it may sound, practicing is important. In the moment, a response that has been practiced is much more likely to be used.

Role play with your teen

If you want your child to avoid drinking alcohol, then restrict their access to it. Helping them to avoid situations where alcohol is present will significantly decrease the chance that they will drink.

Restrict access to alcohol

More strategies • Eat dinner as a family. • Make your home teen friendly (offer food, beverages and activities they like). • Stay involved in all of the details of their lives. Be interested. • Discuss ways to have fun without alcohol and support these activities. • Get to know their friends. • Do things together.

Most Park County parents (82%) of high school youth restrict their teen’s access to alcohol. 17 Most Park County high school youth (74%) support parents restricting access to alcohol. 17 Most parents (83%) spend at least some time each week just hanging out and talking with their kid. 18 Most families (86%) eat dinner together at least once a week.18


TALKING Monitoring

Monitoring isn’t pestering, it’s parenting Afterward

Your teen may not like the idea of you always knowing what they are doing or where they are, though raising a child is not always a democratic process. Monitoring your teen’s activities does not mean that you don’t trust them, it shows that you care—you want to keep them healthy and safe! Teenagers who think their parents will check on their whereabouts are less likely to take part in risky behaviors than teenagers who think their parents will not check. Here are some suggestions for when and how to monitor your child’s activities.

Discreetly check for alcohol on their breath. A “goodnight” or “welcome home” kiss is a good habit and opportunity to check in. Ask: • What happened during their activity? • Did things go according to plans? Did things go well? • Was there alcohol present? • Was an adult present? • Did they face peer pressure - how did they handle it?



Ask: • Where are you going? • What are you doing? • Who will you be with? • Who’s driving? • Will alcohol be present? • Will an adult be present? Confirm: curfew, expectations Remind them: “You may call me anytime of the day or night to get a ride, no matter where you are and no matter what the circumstances. Your safety is most important to me.” Verify: Call other parents to confirm plans

• If you can’t be with them after school, make sure their time is filled with after-school activities, clubs, sports, jobs, chores at home, or homework, not just hanging out with friends. • Most parents care about what their children are doing and where they are, so talk to other parents to share information and ideas. • Speak often with your kids because consistency is important in combating the risks they all face.

During • Have your child check in with you. Require them to call at certain times or if plans change. • Occasionally check to see your child is where they say they are going to be. • Show up a little early to pick up your child and observe the situation. • Know who is driving them from place to place.

Most parents (76%) require their children to check in during the evening. 1 Most parents (57%) check for signs of drinking when their children come home. 1

TALKING Talk Now, Talk Later

Talk Now Clearly adolescence is a time for growing, learning and increasing independence. Youth must learn how to make more and more decisions and they need love, security and boundaries to do so. Parents have a strong impact on their kid’s behavior regarding alcohol use. Conversations will influence their behavior. Teens pay attention to parents who are interested and involved in their lives. Their behavior is very much influenced by their desire for approval from their parents. Talk to other parents and together set a climate that supports harm prevention. It is possible to prevent harm in your teen’s life. Have a plan. Your plan should be a positive strategy that includes knowing the facts and talking to your kids. Reflect on your assumptions, be hopeful and talk now. You are the solution and you can do this!

Talk Later The conversations won’t end when your child turns 21, they will change. If your child chooses to drink alcohol, there are many important guidelines they should consider for safe use. Talk about them. Here are a few examples: • Set a limit and keep count of your drinks • Eat before you drink • Designate a driver • Drink slowly • Alternate water or soda • Go out with friends who watch out for each other • Decide in advance when you are going home • Avoid drinking games


85% of Park County youth report that their family has clear rules about alcohol and drug use. 2 Most Park County parents (82%) do not allow their high school youth to drink alcohol. 1 Most high school students (94%) agree that their parents disapprove of them drinking. 2 95% of Park County adults disapprove of high school students drinking 5 or more drinks. 1 90% of parents believe they would catch their teen if they were drinking. 1 64% of teens report their parents would NOT catch them if they were drinking. 1


TALKING Mixed Messages

Self Assessment: A Tool for Parents You may be sending mixed messages about drinking alcohol to your child. The suggestion is not for parents to abstain from alcohol, but instead to check in with your attitudes and behaviors when dealing with alcohol. Try the following brief self-assessment answering the questions with “often,” “sometimes,” or “never.”

Do you tell funny or glorified stories about your (or your friends’) heavy drinking (past or present)? Do you wear t-shirts, baseball caps, etc. that advertise or promote drinking and/or specific brands of alcohol? Do you see (and communicate this view to your child) drinking as a rite of passage for teenagers that can’t be avoided? Do you assume that alcohol is a necessary part of any celebration or social gathering? Does your child observe you drinking more than 2 or 3 drinks on any one occasion? If you answered “often” or “sometimes” multiple times, you might be unintentionally sending mixed messages to your child, and could be implying that it’s OK for her or him to drink or experiment with alcohol. Your children look to you for guidance, so try to remain clear and consistent about the messages you are sending. Pay attention to the way your children see you use alcohol. Survey adapted from the Maine Parents’ Kit, “Your Teen and Alcohol—Do You Really Know?”, Maine Office of Substance Abuse.

86% of Park County adults disapprove of adults drinking five or more drinks. 4


Index of Sources 1 Reducing Alcohol Abuse; Community Survey (US Department of Education) 2006, 2008 2 Prevention Needs Assessment 2008, 2010 3 Center for Disease Control (ARD) 4 Positive Community Norms; Community Report 2008, 2010 5 Park County Youth Survey 2003 6 BAHS Substance Abuse Booklet 7 American Medical Association 8 Giedd, J.N., Blumenthal, N.O., Jeffries, et al.,”Brain development during childhood and adolescence: A longitudinal MRI study.” Nature Neuroscience, 2 no. 10 (1999): 861-3 9 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2003. 10 Strauch, Barbara, The Primal Teen, Doubleday, 2003 11 Grant, B.F., and Dawson, D.A. Age at onset of drug use and its association with DSM–IV drug abuse and dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse 10:163–173, 1998. PMID: 9854701 12 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2002 and 2003, Talk Alcohol 13 Rodney Wambeam, Sr. Research Scientist with Wyoming Survey and Analyses Center 14 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 15 Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 16 First Lady’s Initiative 17 The Family GPS Study, Nickelodeon 2009 18 Youth Risk Behavior Survey

What’s Up What’s Up is a program provided free-of-charge at school for Cody youth to delay or reduce their alcohol usage. The program is delivered one-on-one by trained counselors and is completely confidential. Parents interested in having their children take advantage of this program should contact the counseling office at school. Photography and design for Now You’re Talking by Morgan Tyree


Data for this booklet is collected from local, regional and national studies regarding teen use of alcohol. Several surveys are conducted regularly to obtain information to help with substance abuse prevention efforts. A variety of surveying procedures encourage honesty and help detect and correct any dishonesty to ensure reliable data. This booklet was created through the West Park Hospital Prevention and Wellness office. The Prevention and Wellness office can help you locate other sources of information and assistance regarding teens, alcohol and related topics. Find us on Facebook. This booklet is funded with WY Dept. of Health Federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Funds. Special thanks to the Bronnenbergs and to those who provided their thoughts for this project.

By 12th grade, 68% of Park County seniors have tried alcohol. 2 90% of parents believe they would catch their teen if they were drinking. 1 64% of teens report their parents would NOT catch them if they were drinking. 1 Most Park County parents (82%) do not allow their high school youth to drink alcohol. 1 Most Park County adults (93%) agree that drinking by high school students is harmful. 1 Most Park County parents (82%) of high school youth restrict their teen’s access to alcohol. 17

MOST STUDENTS AGREE 77% of Park County high school youth think parents should set clear rules and expectations about avoiding harmful behavior. 1 Most high school students (69%) agree that students risk harming themselves if they drink. 1 Most high school students (94%) agree that their parents disapprove of them drinking. 2