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Q&A: TEENS & ALCOHOL
What parents (and teens
should know about

UNDERAGE DRINKING

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

Today is the last day of Alcohol Awareness Month, so Michele Moore, prevention coordinator at the Mental Health Center of North-central Alabama, sat down to fill us in on what every parent and young person should know about drinking.

Q. What are some of the negative ramifications of underage drinking?

A. They (underage drinkers) are going to be greater risk-takers when they're drinking.

Car accidents are more likely to happen if they're drinking and driving, but also because they're more likely to drive faster or ride with someone because their decision-making kind of goes out the window.

You're, of course, more at risk for teen pregnancy, date rape assaults or other sexual assault-type situations, as well as homicide, suicide and accidents like falling or drowning.

It could put them at greater risk for any criminal activity and violence.

Using alcohol or other drugs can also set them up to use other drugs. If you're stone cold sober and someone says, "Do you want to smoke pot or do cocaine?" it might be easier to say no then if you're already intoxicated.

Q. Do teens realize these risks?

A. I don't think they do. There's been a lot of research out lately about how the decision-making part of our brains isn't fully developed until on into our 20s.

So even sober, their decision-making part of the brain isn't fully developed, so that explains why they make a lot of bad decisions sometimes, even college-age kids sometimes.

Q. Why don't parents always take underage drinking seriously?

A. I've gotten the impression from things that I've read and some parents that it's a rite of passage.

I've had some parents say, "They're going to do that anyway, so if I let them do it at home, at least I'll know where they are and they're not driving."

But what they don't realize is the younger someone drinks or starts using alcohol, the more likely they're going to become addicted into their adulthood.

Q. Why do teens start drinking?

A. The two biggest reasons that pop into my mind are peer pressure, kind of the everybody-does-it, fitting in kind of thing, or they feel more relaxed about an opposite sex situation. Like, if they're nervous about talking to someone they like, they feel like they can talk to that person easier when they're drinking.

Kids also have a higher rate of perception of how many people are doing it then how many really are. They think everybody's doing it when statistics show really everybody's not.

Q. Is there a good way to approach talking to your children about drinking?

A. There's a lot of public service messages on the radio now. If they come on the radio, take that opportunity to discuss that with them.

Or if there are things you see on the news or at school, take the time to talk to them then and tell them, "These are the consequences of doing things like that."

Opportunities come up, and I think sometimes parents don't realize it's a good opportunity or still don't know how to approach it.

Q. How should you approach your teen if you think they've been drinking?

A. If it's an incident when you think they've been drinking right then, and if you're angry and they're so intoxicated they're not going to remember what you're saying, wait until the next morning.

But check on them through that night because kids tend to binge drink, which can be dangerous.

In the morning, make it clear that that's not acceptable and there will be whatever consequences you set for them.

Maybe ask them what the situation was they were in that allowed them to make that decision.

Talk to them more about doing other things and not putting themselves in that situation again.

Q. How can teens say no to drinking without worrying about seeming "uncool"?

A. We have the concept of kids saying, "You're not cool, everybody does it," when a lot of times they won't do that. If a teen says, "No, thanks" a lot of times they won't push it.

They can also remove themselves from the situation and say, "I've gotta go, I need to be somewhere else in 30 minutes."

If the drinker continues to pressure the teen, they can reverse the pressure, and say, "Why do you want me to do that? I told you I didn't want to." It kind of puts the pressure back on them.

Q. How do you talk to your college-age child about drinking?

A. Talk to them before they ever go off to college about the hazards.

With the Mental Health Center's new strategy, we're focusing on some of the college kids and printing fliers about the dangers of binge drinking, even if you're old enough to legally drink. Binge drinking can be very dangerous. Michele Moore has been the prevention coordinator at the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama for 13 years. She provides community
education to school systems in Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties.

Q. What can parents do to prevent underage drinking?

A. My No. 1 answer would be communication with that child and having clear rules in your house and consequences. I think a lot of parents just don’t make it clear that it’s not acceptable

Your children have to start thinking ahead to “If I do this, these are the things that can happen.”

I also think it’s very important to start talking to them when they’re younger than the age they’re thinking about starting to use.

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