Teen Underage Drinking—Advice for Parents
Thursday, July 26, 2012
What is a Rhode Island parent to do to make sure this doesn't happen to them?
It may be easy to think that your own children are under control and this only happens to the other family, but taking a laissez-faire, don't-ask-don't-tell attitude with teen drinking is a doomed strategy, according to local experts.
"I believe, and I think that most experts would agree, that open and frank discussions about alcohol, and the risks associated with its use, should occur between parents and their children--in an age-appropriate way," said Jason Hack, MD, a toxicologist at Rhode Island Hospital's Department of Emergency Medicine. "Providing accurate information to teenagers about alcohol drinking and their parents' expectations may serve to decrease experimental and risky behaviors."
Raoof is the mother of two 5th grade boys. "I hope this will pave the way for more responsible judgment when our kids have to make their safe choices with less adult supervision," she said, "and make good choices about who they hang around with, and how."
Be a role model
Parents can set a better standard for their children's behavior, said Rick Brown, PhD, Director of Addictions Research at Butler Hospital, parents can set a better standard for their children's behavior. "Drink responsibly, if you drink," Brown said, "to serve as a positive role model. And don't make alcohol available to children. Get to know your children's friends and supervise all parties to make sure there is no alcohol."
In general Brown said, an active engagement in your teenager's life is crucial. "Be aware of your children's plans and whereabouts whenever possible," he said. "Parental monitoring is important."
Keep an eye open
And don't assume all is well if there are no parties under your roof. In addition to promoting conversation, parents should watch for risk signs. "Decreased interest in activities and hobbies, emotional changes, and changes in attitude are some signs that could indicate potential problems," said Rebecca Boss, the Administrator for Substance Abuse Programs at Rhode Island's Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. Rick Brown added that parents should be on the lookout for academic and/or behavioral problems at school, changing groups of friends, less interest in activities and/or appearance. Listen for slurred speech, he said, and look out for coordination problems as well as memory or concentration problems. And of course, if you're smelling alcohol on your teen's breath of finding alcohol among their things, it's time to take action.
Underage drinking in Rhode Island
It's a sobering picture. In Rhode Island, 8.9% of young people ages 12-14 drank alcohol in the previous month, according to Brown, and 2.7% of those young teens engaged in binge drinking. "That increases to 66.5 percent of young people ages 18-20 drinking in the past month, and 48.2 percent binge drinking," Brown said. "It's certainly a major health problem."
And yet, according to Rebecca Boss, Rhode Island's youth drinking landscape has improved. "Underage drinking has traditionally been a problem in the Northeast," she said. "However, the most recent surveys have shown a decrease in underage drinking and the success of some of our initiatives." The state has local substance abuse prevention coalitions in 35 cities and towns.
Is hard-core the answer?
After Lincoln Chafee's son's party at his parents' home, many moms and dads might be wondering if they can even leave teens alone… ever. "That is a difficult question to answer," Rick Brown said. "Teens are inevitably going to be in places at times when you cannot be with them or directly observe them." Brown said that providing clear guidelines and expectations for them is crucial. "For example, 'No alcohol [is] allowed to be brought into the house and no drinking in the house,'" he said. "And be clear on what negative consequences you will provide if they do not follow through on these expectations."
Some parents may wonder if locking away all their alcohol might be smartest to remove easy temptations. And perhaps, if a child is already demonstrating risk taking behaviors, it's not a bad idea. "Many parents keep liquor and other alcohol in locked cabinets so their children cannot gain access," Brown said. "In any event, if alcohol is in the house, it is best to monitor to assure that children are not gaining access to it. Be aware that young people have been known to consume alcohol and then to replace the bottle to the same level with water." Jason Hack took a common-sense approach when dealing with a potential underage drinker. "Keeping unsecured and accessible alcohol around a child who is suspected of underage drinking is probably not advisable," he said.
Rhode Island experts offered the following local resources.
Junior high and high school guidance offices may be helpful, according to Brown. "Many towns and cities have a substance abuse counselor whose job it is to work in the schools with young people to prevent alcohol and drug problems or refers young people for help."
The Rhode Island Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependence is another excellent resource, according to Brown.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Web site has excellent information on underage drinking.
Rebecca Boss advises that each city and town in Rhode Island has its own local substance abuse prevention coalition. Contact Elizabeth Kretchman, Prevention Coordinator at 462-0644 or email@example.com for their contact information. Caritas House and Phoenix House are local resources for when individuals are concerned that kids might need treatment.
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