I received the panicked phone call from my mother early in June: my sister’s 20-year-old daughter had just returned home from her sophomore year at college and a crisis had erupted. In addition to having gained more than 50 pounds, Layla was not acting like herself; she was sleeping all day, irritable and uncooperative. Because I worked for decades as a psychotherapist with a specialty in children and families, Mom asked me for help.
The transition from high school to college is a critical time for teenagers forming their long-term patterns of alcohol consumption. Current evidence indicates that parental attitudes play a prominent role in determining whether college students start participating in risky drinking behaviors. However, significant numbers of parents fail to fully recognize the alcohol-related dangers their college-age children face.
Even the best kids can make poor decisions based on peer pressure and media influence. The number of teenagers that actually enjoy the taste and complexities of alcohol are exceedingly low – they’re using it to fit in and escape the pressures around them.
There are many things parents do for their teenagers to help them prepare for adulthood, such as setting rules for grades, curfews and getting a job. But sad as it seems, it’s important to educate children about the dangers of addictions, too. And not only that, it’s just as important for parents to educate themselves about the symptoms of addiction so they can better recognize them and get their child help.
Considering the potential risks associated with teen drinking, such as injury, vehicular crashes and risky sexual behaviors in the short term, as well as heart disease or cancer in the long term, binge drinking by teens can result in tragedy. Parents should be talking with their teens about the dangers of alcohol.
Parents are often confused about their role in helping teens navigate decisions related to alcohol and drugs. For some, the right path is an adherence to strict rules for any type of substance use. For other parents, there’s a benefit in allowing alcohol to be consumed in moderation under a watchful parental eye. Experts say that the correct strategy may involve the best elements of each approach.
Recently, a late night TV show mocked the government’s decision to fund a video aimed toward teaching college students how to safely use a microwave. While preparing kids for college by teaching them about microwave oven safety may seem comical, there are other topics which caring parents should be addressing with kids gearing up for university. Alcohol is at or near the top of that list. And a new study shows that parent-teen discussions about alcohol actually make a measurable difference in how kids behave with alcohol once they get to school.
Sixteen-year-old Katie got an unexpected phone call from her boyfriend (they usually text). He wanted to break up, at least until the end of the school year, he told her, so he could “focus on sports.” As soon as Katie tearfully said goodbye, she already had a barrage of texts coming in. Her boyfriend, now ex, had already changed his status on Facebook from “in a relationship” to “single” with a few comments about fun times ahead in the single life and cyber high-fives from buddies. Katie didn’t have time to react before she was receiving Facebook messages, comments to her wall, and Twitter comments and direct messages asking about the break-up – one she had no idea was even coming. Everyone seemed to know about her boyfriend’s decision before she did – people online she didn’t even know – making her breakup all the more humiliating.
Underage drinking is certainly nothing new, but recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are cause for alarm. Of particular concern is the fact that the age of drinking onset is getting lower and lower while the amount of alcohol consumed seems to be getting higher and higher.
Unfortunately, your teen may not only be meeting and exchanging news with friends when he/she visits online social media sites. While there, they may also very likely be viewing trendy advertising for major alcohol brands. Worse yet, many of these brands are advertising the option to purchase alcohol over the Internet and underage teens are taking advantage of the opportunity.