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Alcohol consumption - Talk to your teens early and often

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By: Alan Baker, Coalition for Placer Youth
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No parental activity has a more productive impact on a teen’s health than the investment of time and communication. This is especially true as it relates to alcohol and other drugs. Multiple research studies indicate that talking early and often to teens about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs, and clearly communicating family expectations, significantly decreases the percentage of use. Given that the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse identified teen substance abuse as America’s number one public health problem, keeping the lines of communication open between parent and teen is more important than ever. But in Placer County, an interesting trend is emerging. Local data from a countywide high school student survey shows that as alcohol and drug use increases across grades (from ninth to 12th grade), parent communication with their teen about drug and alcohol dangers decreases. Told another way, parents may feel they’ve already had enough communication with their teen about the subject, or worse, be in denial that their teen may be engaging in these risky and dangerous behaviors. The reality is that talking with your 8- or 11-year-old about drugs and alcohol is important; but talking with your teen from 13 to 18 is imperative. The teen brain is primed to taking risks, and those risks may include experimenting with alcohol and drugs. As your teen continues to develop, reinforcing a consistent, preventative “don’t use” message helps establish a strong foundation against using alcohol and drugs, and sets the tone for family expectations. Alcohol is reported as the number one drug of choice among Placer County teens, and parents should be aware of these facts, as reported by Placer County teens: • Average age of onset for alcohol use is 13 • Binge drinking (5 or more drinks in two hours) doubles from ninth grade to 11th grade • 77 percent of 11th graders say alcohol is very easy to get • Only 51 percent of teens report talking to a parent about the dangers of alcohol These figures are alarming, but there is an enormous opportunity that parents can seize by simply talking and listening. Teens routinely identify parents as their number one influence, and teens who learn about the dangers of alcohol from their parents are 50 percent less likely to use alcohol. If you think they aren’t listening, think again. Alan Baker is the steering committee co-chair for the Coalition for Placer Youth, a group of parents, educators, community leaders and volunteers that come together to help prevent and reduce substance abuse among youth. Visit www.coalitionforplaceryouth.org.