If You Think You're the Only Parent Concerned about Underage Drinking, Think Again!

A 1998 public opinion poll by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 96% of the American public is concerned about teen alcohol use.[1]  Parents are a critical component of the solution, and parents are right to be concerned.  However, we must help parents overcome a sense that teen drinking is inevitable – too often we hear, “my hands are tied.” 

Just as youth often mistakenly perceive that their peers are drinking more than they really are, parents often mistakenly perceive that there is nothing they can do about the problem of underage drinking.  So for parents who are asking “what can we do?” here are a few ideas:

q       Send an unequivocal message that you expect your son or daughter not to use alcohol – set clear rules and enforce them consistently.

q       Anticipate the various pressures that they might face regarding alcohol use, and help them think through ways to resist those pressures in advance.

q       Establish a network of open communication with other parents so that you can work together to send consistent messages about the unacceptability of underage drinking in your community.

q       Support the efforts of your schools and law enforcement agencies to enforce policies and laws consistently, fairly, and effectively.

q       Hold your local merchants accountable for responsible alcohol sales and marketing practices.  Project Sticker Shock is a local program raising awareness about underage drinking by placing the orange stickers on packs of beer.

q       Be a positive role model – don’t supply alcohol to minors, don’t drink and drive, and if you choose to drink, do so in low-risk ways.

q       Be a “hands-on” parent.  The annual National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse, a survey of 1,000 teens (age 12-17), reveals that “hands-on” parents raise children who are less at risk of smoking, drinking, and using drugs.[2]  “Hands-on” parenting includes, among other things, establishing a household culture of rules and expectations for their teen's behavior and monitor what their teens do such as the TV shows they watch, what they access on the Internet and the music CDs they buy, and where they are on evenings and weekends.  Contrary to popular belief, teens in “hands-on” households are more likely to have an excellent relationship with their parents than teens with “hands-off” parents.

[1] Wagenaar AC, Harwood E, Zander K., 1998.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Youth Access to Alcohol Survey: Summary.  Minneapolis : University of Minnesota , Alcohol Epidemiology Program.

[2] National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VI: Teens, 2001. National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University . Available for download at http://www.casacolumbia.org.