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Teens and Alcohol: Tips for Parents

Teen alcohol use remains a serious problem. Peer pressure can be a strong influence for teenagers in a time of life when “being an adult” takes on greater importance. With more teens dying each year in alcohol-related car accidents and evidence that suggests those who start drinking at an early age are more likely to misuse alcohol later in life, parents need to focus on ways they can help their children make good decisions about alcohol. This means starting the conversation early, modeling desired behavior, setting strict rules and staying involved.

Talk about it. Parents can begin talking with their children about drinking in an age-appropriate way as early as fourth or fifth grade. As children reach the teenage years, conversations should become more frequent and point to specific dangers, such as impaired judgment, slower reaction time and the risk of misuse or addiction.

Be a good role model. Parents are powerful role models. Children will learn a lot about drinking—responsibly or irresponsibly—by watching their parents. Parents send messages to their children when they drink at a friend’s house and then drive home or come  in the door after a hard day at work and immediately pour a glass of wine.

Establish firm, consistent rules about drinking. Underage drinking is illegal—even in private homes and even with adult supervision. To protect your family, rules about underage drinking in the home—or in a friend’s home—should be no different than the law. Lovingly communicate this to your children, and be sure they understand the consequences.

Stay involved. Know your teenager’s friends (and their parents, if possible). Pay attention to changes in attitude or behavior, including declining school performance or hesitancy to bring new friends to the house, which may signal alcohol use or other problems. 

Mary Ian McAteer, MD

Author of this Article

Mary Ian McAteer, MD, specializes in pediatrics. She is a guest columnist located at Riley at IU Health Physicians Pediatrics - Meridian Crossing, 11590 N. Meridian St., Ste. 300, in Carmel. She can be reached by calling the office at 317.688.5220.

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