Alcohol is the most widely used substance among America’s teens and young adults, causing serious health and safety risks. Believe it or not, in Tioga County the average age for a first drink is 15. Teens try alcohol for many reasons – to feel older, escape from stress, peer pressure, and even boredom – but most of the time they do not fully understand the negative effects or health risks of drinking alcohol. Forty percent of teens do not perceive any risk in having one or two drinks nearly every day.
Parents play an important role in protecting their teens from substance use. The 2017 Tioga County Youth Survey of high school students in grades eight, 10 and 12 found that 95 percent of teens said they think their parents would disapprove of underage drinking and 75 percent said that they could ask their mom or dad for help if they have a personal problem.
As a parent, you have a huge influence over whether your child decides to drink or not. Be informed and set clear rules that you disapprove of underage drinking, be a good model and provide positive examples and find opportunities to discuss the dangers of alcohol. If you choose to drink, model responsible drinking behavior. A child with a parent who binge drinks is much more likely to binge drink than a child whose parents do not. Try to avoid sending any mixed messages – find ways to celebrate and relax without alcohol.
Talking with your teen about the danger of alcohol use doesn’t have to feel so painful. If you want to have an open and honest conversation with your child, do your best to keep an open mind and remain curious. Your child is more likely to be engaged this way. Follow these tips to keep open lines of communication with your child:
Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that give your child more than just a “yes” or “no” answer and will lead to a more engaging conversation.
Let your teen know they’re being heard. Use active listening and reflect back what you are hearing —For example, you can say, I’m hearing that you feel overwhelmed, and that you think drinking helps you relax. Is that right?
Discuss the negative effects of alcohol, and what that means in terms of mental and physical health, safety and making good decisions. Talk about the long-term effects.
Offer empathy, love, and support. Let your child know you understand. The teen years can be tough. Express that everyone struggles sometimes, but alcohol is not a useful or healthy way to cope with problems and that it’s important to you that she or he is healthy, happy and makes safe choices. Let your child know that he or she can trust you.
Don’t forget to keep a close eye on how your child is coping. If he or she seems withdrawn or uninterested in the usual activities, these are signs that your child might be hiding something or might want to talk to – someone they trust – YOU!
Remember, silence isn’t golden—it’s permission!
For more information on how to encourage drug-free behavior and guide good choices, contact CASA-Trinity by calling (607) 223-4066 or find them on Facebook.