The school year is racing upon us. Parents of new or returning high school students are probably as apprehensive as their kids are excited. Because no matter how great the school is, there are always those things notorious in high schools: drinking, drugs, sex, and other risky behaviors.
Of course, all the bad stuff tends to be exaggerated anyway. Just the same, all those stories and statistics are probably enough to drive you to drink yourself.
So how do you protect your teen from “being a statistic” and developing bad drinking or drug habits that could lead to alcohol problems in later life
Well, a recent article from Medical Daily has the first rule of thumb: delaying the first sip.
1. Delaying the First Sip
If you’re like any parent, you have probably allowed your children to try a sip of wine at some formal celebration. After all, an innocent sip or two under adult supervision can hardly hurt. In fact, many believe this is a healthy way to encourage responsible drinking.
Or is it?
A new study from Yale University shows that the younger people are when they have their first drink, the more likely they will develop drinking problems in early adulthood.
This study followed over 1,000 freshman college students over 4 years. Participants took a questionnaire about the age they first started drinking and if they had any alcohol-related problems. The results showed that the earlier children tried alcohol, the harder it was for them to control how much they drank in college.
“As expected, beginning to use alcohol at an earlier age was associated with heavier drinking and the experience of more negative consequences during senior year of college,” said study author Meghan Morean.
An early age of first drink is also associated with other negative outcomes, such as:
- Impaired brain development
- Drug abuse
- Liver damage
- Risky sexual behaviors
Even two years will make a difference: those who had their first sip at age 15 were at a greater risk for heavy drinking and alcohol problems than those who had their first drink at age 17. Unfortunately, the average American adolescent has his or her first drink between the ages of 14 and 15.
So the best way to prevent drinking problems in the future? Prevent them from taking the first sip now. Delay, delay, delay.
2. Encourage Positive Risk-taking behavior.
Psychologists have proven what we know from experience: that risk-taking is a normal part of teenage development. (To be more specific, risk taking behavior is a normal and expected manifestation of adolescent brain immaturity.) But this doesn’t mean they have to take stupid risks.
Elizabeth Donovan from Psychology Today explains, there are both positive and negative risk-taking behaviors. The positive risks can be playing team sports, attend volunteer activities, or join other extra-curricular clubs.
These risks maynot sound risky, but these activities can be classified as risky because they encompass the possibility of failure and the thrill of physical exertion. Positive risks not only result in higher self-esteem and social development, but it leaves less time for the negative risk taking behaviors such as drinking or drugs.
3. Lead by Example
You as a parent need to make your position clear not just by talking about it, but by “living out what you preach”. Conversation is a great first step, but it’s far from enough. Chances are, your teen already knows all the dangers of alcohol or drugs, but they won’t take it seriously unless you do.
How do they know that you’re taking it seriously? When you take time to find a restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol, or when you take time to figure out who will be your designated driver. When you make rules for how much you or your spouse will drink. When you sacrifice your drinking to ensure they are not even temped to drink.
For example, at a forming gathering (wedding, graduation), where nearly everybody is toasting and drinking alcohol, your teen will feel left out, inferior, a “baby”—altogether uncool. That teenage longing to be included and accepted usually produces resentment towards the law and a strong desire to drink.
As a parent, the easy thing to do is to bend the rules and allow them that “first sip”. A more powerful demonstration of your beliefs (and your love for them) would be to set down the alcohol and pick up a soft drink instead.
Imagine if you, your spouse, and your two college-aged sons all traded their alcoholic drinks for cokes—just so that your youngest teen doesn’t feel abandoned. Not only is this leading by example, but this will create a lasting impression of just how much their well-being and happiness means to you. This small but powerful act of sacrifice and love may be what prevents them from accepting a beer when they are at a friend’s house or caving into peer pressure at a party.
So are these fool proof tips? Of course not. You can’t write the future, but you play a role in shaping it. Delaying the first sip, encouraging the right kind of behavior, and leading by example can significantly reduce alcohol and drug-related problems in your child’s future. In the teenage world that embraces alcohol and drugs, any prevention techniques can help guide your teen in the right direction.