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Some parents rationalize that by allowing teens to drink in their homes, they can keep teens safe. Or they may remember sharing a few beers with their friends on the weekend before they were of legal drinking age and consider it “normal” teen behavior.
The reality is that underage drinking is never safe. Teenagers who drink are at higher risk for alcohol abuse, can permanently damage brain development and have higher rates of accidental death. While taking the car keys may keep them safe from motor vehicle accidents, it does not address many other dangers, including accidental death from alcohol poisoning, injury or drowning; unplanned or unprotected sexual activity; violence; and criminal activity. Also, studies show that youth who begin drinking alcohol early in life are at four times greater risk of alcoholism later in life.
It may be tempting to think of your new grad as an adult, but your teen still depends on you to keep him or her safe and healthy.
- Talk to your teen. Don’t assume he or she knows how destructive alcohol can be. Establish clear expectations and consequences.
- Plan ahead. Know their plans – where they plan to be and when. Verify with other parents that alcohol will not be allowed. Ensure your teen has a safe ride home.
- Stay up til your teens return home or have them wake you upon their return. A staggering 70% of teens say they would be less likely to drink alcohol if they knew their parents would be waiting up for them.
- Set a good example. If you drink, use alcohol moderately and model good behavior. If you keep alcohol in your home, keep track of the supply or keep it locked.
- Provide fun, alcohol-free opportunities and activities for teens.
Not only is it unsafe and unhealthy for teens to drink alcohol, it’s against the law. Adults who knowingly provide alcohol to minors not only risk arrest, but also civil litigation. California’s new Teen Alcohol Safety Act now holds adults liable if they knowingly provide alcohol to a minor and it results in injury or death.
Teen drinking affects all of us – teens, families and our community at large. We want to hear your ideas about how to prevent underage drinking in Shasta County. What works? What doesn’t? Have you heard about the Teen Alcohol Safety Act? Do you think holding adults accountable for teen drinking accidents will prevent underage drinking in our community?
To learn more about underage drinking prevention efforts in Shasta County, visit www.thinkagainshasta.info.
Donnell Ewert, MPH, is director of Shasta County Public Health. While at Wheaton College, he participated in the Human Needs and Global Resources program, which included a seven-month internship in Honduras – an experience that sparked his interest in public health. He earned his master’s degree from UCLA after evaluating a program that used goats to increase the nutritional intake of malnourished children. He worked briefly as a health educator with migrant farm workers in Virginia before becoming an epidemiologist for the health departments in Los Angeles and the state of Indiana. Donnell came to Shasta County Public Health as an epidemiologist in 1999, after doing humanitarian health work in Kazakhstan. He has been the department director since 2007. He and his wife, Mary, have two teenage daughters.
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