Drawing Boundaries for Safe, Healthy Kids

Diane Pickert is a Community Prevention Specialist at Tri-County Mental Health Services in Kansas City, MO.  Her background education is in Early Childhood Development, Communication, and Religious Education.  She’s finishing her Masters at the moment from Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England.  Diane’s focus has always been on the connection between faith, family and raising healthy children.

My 3 year-old grandson Ambrose drew a mural with markers, not once, but twice on walls in their family home.  First, all over the dining room wall and a year later, all over the upstairs hallway.  Needless to say, my daughter and her husband have had to set some boundaries with markers.  

It is normal in development for children in their early years to push their limits, which is why it is important to start setting boundaries young.  By setting these boundaries and establishing consequences, it helps children develop self-control, supports development, and fosters a moral compass.

Here are some reasons kids and teens need boundaries:

  • Boundaries teach self-discipline
  • Boundaries keep our children safe and healthy
  • Boundaries teach children how to socialize
  • Boundaries teach children how to cope with uncomfortable feelings
  • Boundaries encourage good behavior and good citizenship as they grow older
  • Boundaries are reassuring and actually show children you care about them

In adolescence, kids start testing limits with relationships and their bodies.  The emotional center of the adolescent brain is hyper-sensitive to risk and reward and it often overrides the underdeveloped front of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) where complex thought and decision making happens.  Adolescents are more likely to try things like drinking alcohol, vaping, or driving at dangerous speeds, leaving parents reminiscing of the days of coloring on the walls!

Setting boundaries helps the adolescent brain create pathways as your child grows up.  It shows kids you care about their health and development and makes them feel safe.  Setting firm boundaries and having regular conversations with your children will help them become responsible for their own actions, attitudes and emotions. Maintaining these boundaries will instill character in your children which will encourage them to lead a balanced, and resilient life well into their adult years.  And if your child is anything like my grandson, they will probably “color on the walls” more than once.  That’s ok and it doesn’t mean that your boundaries aren’t worth it.  Boundaries need to be defined more than once for adolescents. 

I’m sure as Ambrose continues to grow older he will need more boundaries set for different reasons.  His parents will have many conversations with him, not because they want to stifle his curiosity or creativity, but because they simply love him and want him to be safe. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for your kids and teens.  It enhances their ability to cope with life’s disappointments (without drugs like nicotine and marijuana) and helps them gain a sense of control.  Make sure you have regular conversations with your children and, most importantly, love them even in the midst of their mistakes.

The Results are In! New 2020 Data and Looking to the Future

Local Data on Substance Use Declines

The Missouri Student Survey is conducted on even-numbered years and tracks risky behaviors of students in grades 6-12 attending public and private schools in Missouri. The survey, conducted jointly by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Department of Mental Health, asks youth a variety of questions on health and safety issues. County summaries of the 2020 results are available to view here

From the summary view, the new data is uplifting. Youth across Clay, Platte and Ray Counties are using alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, and marijuana at rates lower than the state average.  The past 30-day use rates of these substances is also lower than what was reported in 2018.  At Parent Up, we are excited to see this downward trend!  We can celebrate that our youth are using fewer substances and that our prevention programs are working to make a difference.

Substance Use Harms Young Brains and Can Lead to Addiction

On the other hand, we still have plenty of work to do to protect area youth.  A study from the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 9 out of 10 people who are addicted to nicotine, alcohol or other drugs began using these substances in their teen years.  This statistic is backed by science and research that reveals the vulnerability of the adolescent brain to substance use.  Because the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s, vaping, drinking alcohol, using marijuana or misusing medications during the teen years can disrupt and damage brain development.  Substance use prior to age 18 is linked to an increased likelihood of brain damage, addiction, and mental illness such as depression or suicidal ideation.

Preventing the Disease of Addiction

Prevention science points to multiple strategies that prevent the early use of alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.  Policies that reduce availability and marketing of substances to youth are important in reducing access to youth.  Strong community and family attitudes and expectations that discourage underage use are also proven to decrease the chances that a child will begin using alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or prescription drugs in the teen years.  Establishing strong relationships and connection between teens and adults, providing opportunities for healthy risk, and monitoring and supervision are also proven to decrease the likelihood that a child will engage in risky behaviors like substance use.  These strategies,especially when coupled together, will help ensure that youth substance use rates continue to decline.  Follow along this year at Parent Up as we work to ensure that parents and our community CARE, CONNECT, COMMUNICATE and pay CAREFUL attention to our kids so that we can delay the age of first use of alcohol and other drugs, and protect future generations from the devastation that comes from addiction!

What are We Teaching Our Kids?: How to be a positive role model when it comes to alcohol


“Role Modeling is one of the most powerful tools you have in your parenting tool belt to influence the direction of your children’s character, whatever their age.”

–The Center for Parenting Education

My nine year old is my little shadow.  She wants to be wherever I am, sit next to me at every meal, and raid my closet for her latest fashion creation.  As frustrating as it can be at times, I am happy to have my little shadow!  See, I also have a 13 year old who was socially distancing before it was cool.  The truth is that both my little shadow and my distant teen, like all kids, learn and mimic their surroundings.  

Well into adulthood, our kiddos closely observe us as we manage our relationships, work, our health, and more. They note how we handle stress and whether we treat others with respect, show patience, act generously, and overall practice what we preach. And they tuck all of this away to use as they navigate their own lives.

Our use of alcohol is no different. As parents, role modeling when it comes to alcohol consumption is key to protecting our children from the risks associated with underage drinking.

Some well-meaning parents believe that letting their children drink at home helps them develop an appropriate relationship with alcohol. Research suggests otherwise— in fact, adolescents who are allowed to drink at home drink more heavily outside of the home. In addition, adolescents whose parents have specific and strict rules against underage drinking (and also drink responsibly themselves) are less likely to drink heavily outside the home.

So whether you have a shadow, or you always live life 6 feet apart, how can you model responsible drinking as a parent? Here are some guidelines:

  • Explain to your child why alcohol is for adults only. Let them know their brain will continue to develop well into their twenties, so the legal age of 21 helps protect their health.  Communicate your strong stance against drinking before this age, and talk about your consequences for your child.
  • Be a role model. If you drink alcohol, be mindful of how much and why you drink and what messages you might be sending to your children. Do not involve your children in adult behaviors.  Restrict them from touching, sipping, mixing, or fetching alcohol for adults.  It’s always a good idea to have a sober caregiver or parent present.
  • Control the context.  As adults, we shouldn’t talk about drinking as a way to manage stress around kids — for example, “Today was terrible. I need a drink!”  Instead, we should model healthier ways to manage stress like exercising, practicing deep breathing, or talking things over with your partner.  We can put words to these actions and make the connection clear for our kids!  For example, “Whew, I had such a stressful day!  I’m going to go take a walk to calm down and unwind.”
  • What if you drank as a teen?  If you choose to share that you drank as a teen, be sure to admit that it was a mistake and give examples of negative experiences that resulted or could have resulted from it. If your child asks you this question, a great response is “I did have a drink when I was younger. However, we didn’t know as much as we do now about the risks of alcohol. If I had known then, I would have done things differently. This is why I am talking to you about it. I want you to be safe, healthy, and happy.”
  • Practice what you preach:  Never drive when you’ve been drinking or get into a vehicle with a driver who is impaired. You wouldn’t want your child to, so don’t do it yourself.  Designate a sober driver in advance if you plan to drink.
  • If you have alcohol in your home, be sure to secure it away from kids and teens. 

To learn more about alcohol and your health, visit the CDC’s FAQ page for alcohol. For more tips and tools for preventing underage drinking or talking to your child about alcohol and other drug use, check out our Parent Up Tools page! 

Tiffany (Van Sickle) is a parent of two amazing kiddos, and has been working to prevent youth substance use for 5 years.  She currently serves as the Program Director for the Park Hill Community Alliance for Youth (CAFY).

6 Warning Signs Your Child Has Been Vaping

Vaping –or the use of e-cigarettes– is a dangerous trend that has been rising in popularity among youth. In fact, a 2019 report by the Center for Disease Control shows that the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 3.6 million in 2018 to a whopping 5.3 million in 2019.

6 Warning Signs To Look Out For

As a parent, here are a few warning signs that might indicate that your child has been vaping:

 1) Unfamiliar tech-looking devices

E-cigarette devices contain parts and cartridges that need to be exchanged and replaced. These parts may appear to look like USB drives or battery chargers.

2) Pleasant smell

What can make vaping more appealing to youth than traditional cigarettes are the sweet flavors available. If you catch faint aromas of bubble gum or watermelon, it might be a sign that someone is vaping nearby.

3) Increased secrecy and mood behaviors

Mood changes and feelings of irritability and anxiety may be signs of nicotine withdrawal. If you notice your child acting more irritable than usual, as well as being secretive and unwilling to answer questions, it may be another sign that your child has been vaping.

4) Increased thirst or nose bleeds

Vaping removes hydration from the skin of the mouth and throat, leaving a dry, flat palate. If you see your child increasing their liquid consumption (and urinating more), this may be a sign of vaping. Similarly to how it dries the mouth, vaping also dries the skin of the nose too. When the nose is too dry, it can bleed, which might be another clue.

5) Decreased caffeine use

The combination of vaping nicotine and drinking caffeine can cause anxiety and severe mood swings. Many vape users will decrease their caffeine intake to avoid these side effects.

6) Unfamiliar online purchases or packages

Vapes and e-juices are available for purchase online, so if there are unfamiliar charges on a card or odd-looking packages coming to your home, it’s time to ask questions.

Talking Points 

It’s important to note that while these may be indicators of vaping, they aren’t sure-fire indicators that your child has been using an e-cigarette. That’s why it’s important not to jump to conclusions, but rather to approach a conversation with your child with an open mind.

Here are some quick tips for discussing vaping with your child:

  • Start the conversation sooner than later– The discussion on vaping with your child will likely be ongoing so start the dialogue early on
  • Avoid criticism and encourage your child to be open with you– Listen to your child to understand their perspective things and invite them to ask questions 
  • Help them understand why vaping is harmful– Use facts to stress the seriousness of vaping
  • Teach them to say no– Identify possible scenarios where your child may be offered e-cigarettes, then help them practice how to respond

At Parent Up, it’s our mission to equip parents with online tools and resources to help prevent substance abuse of any kind by youth.

The talking tips listed above can also be applied to other conversations with your child to prevent underage use of other harmful substances such as alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.

For more stats, information, and advice on vaping, visit our Vaping page.

The Power of Grandparents in Preventing Underage Drinking

Children often hold a special place in their hearts and minds for grandparents. Oftentimes, they feel like they’re able to have open conversations with their grandparents without judgment, criticism or punishment they may receive from parents. 

It’s for that reason that grandparents may be able to make headway in tough conversations where parents might otherwise be unable to. They can help surround a teenager with support, love, and reinforcement towards a life without the damage of illegal substances. 

Here are a few tips for grandparents:

Get Involved In Their Life

  • Connect with grandkids in their world by attending their events, spending quality time together, or sharing the kids’ interest. The goal is to build a strong bond and good memories.
  • Expand interest in their life by joining their social media circle as invited. Grandparents can have a Snapchat account too!

Listen, Don’t Judge

  • Show interest in the child’s life by listening, asking good questions, and offering love and encouragement.
  • Grandkids might share stories involving questionable behavior, about a friend who got ‘wasted’ or someone who was ‘grounded for a month’. In such cases, it’s important to listen without expressing judgment. 

Share Your Wisdom

  • Once a good relationship is secured, grandparents can share opinions of disapproval of illegal substance use without using a condescending tone.
  • If something is shared that needs to be reported back to the parents, grandparents can suggest ways of sharing the news and offer encouragement and support in the process.

While they may not be on the front lines of parenting, grandparents can be strong allies in helping kids avoid underage drinking or other drug use. Parent Up encourages grandparents to leverage the influential role they play in their relationships with their grandkids to empower them to make smart choices. 

To learn more about how to prevent underage drinking and the use of other substances, visit our collection of online tools and resources.

Start Young: 5 Ways to Talk To Your Elementary Aged Child About Alcohol

For parents of elementary aged children, the need to talk about avoiding alcohol and other drug use can feel like a long ways off. While it’s true that the pressure to drink with their friends, start using drugs, or hide substance-use behavior from parents may not be a daily struggle for 8-12 year olds, they are still exposed to drugs and alcohol and may form their opinions early.

Here are 5 ways to talk to your elementary-aged child about alcohol:

1- Explain how alcohol is bad for kids’ brains

 Tell kids their brains are growing every day in many different ways. When their brain takes in information from hearing words, reading books, or seeing neat things with their eyes, their brain processes it all, stores the good stuff, and grows bigger and bigger. Then explain that alcohol and other drugs slow that process down and stops their brain from growing bigger and smarter.

2- Use an analogy

 Use an analogy to further drive your message. Have them imagine they are building with Legos and someone pours sticky syrup all over their Lego creation. They would not be able to build as well as before. Alcohol is like sticky syrup that wrecks what young brains are starting to build.

3- Be wary of your behaviour

 Elementary-aged children watch and model themselves after their parents, so it’s important to be mindful of your behaviour when consuming alcohol. While we’re not suggesting that you hide drinks from your children or that you need to give up drinking altogether, we invite you to control the context in which your child is exposed to alcohol and other drugs.

Here are some quick tips on managing your child’s exposure to adult alcohol consumption:

  1. Do not involve your children in adult behaviors and restrict them from touching, sipping, fetching, or mixing alcohol.
  2. Make sure there are other non-alcoholic drinks offered to adults at mixed age parties or gatherings. Consider hosting or attending events where alcohol isn’t present.
  3. Be careful about how you talk about drinking around your kids. Avoid comments like  “Whew, I had a hard day at work. I really need a beer tonight.”

4- Maintain open communication

Explain why adults may drink alcohol but children may not; because even in small amounts, it is harmful to the development of their brains and bodies. Talk to your child about the dangers and side effects of alcohol. Explain that alcohol is different than food and other drinks. Let your child know that people who drink too much alcohol get sick and throw up. Explain that too much alcohol can make some people stressed, angry and violent. 

5- Address alcohol in advertising and media

Alcohol-related advertising can be found everywhere, especially in television, and it’s been proven to share a correlation with underage drinking among youth. When alcohol or other drugs is brought up on TV or you see a display out in the community, ask your child what they know and feel about alcohol and answer any questions they may have.

Starting the conversation with your child early will empower them to make smart and healthy decisions as they get older. Keeping an open dialogue will help you develop a closer relationship with your child which will make it easier to enforce rules later.

Visit our Talking Points page for more age-specific tips and downloadable guides on navigating the discussion on alcohol and other drugs.

 

8 Warning Signs That Your Child Has Been Drinking

Alcohol is the most commonly used and misused drug among youth in the United States.1 And according to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there were approximately 10 million underage drinkers in 2010.2

As a parent, you want what’s best for your child, which is why it’s important to proactively prevent them from drinking. But how can you tell if your child has been drinking or experimenting with alcohol? Sometimes, it’s not always as obvious as you smelling booze on their clothing.

Warning Signs To Look Out For

Here are a few common changes in your kid’s physical appearance and behavior that may be warning signs that they have been drinking:

  1. Mood changes: flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness
  2. School problems: poor attendance, low grades, and/or recent disciplinary action
  3. Pushing boundaries: rebellion against family rules
  4. Friend group changes: switching friends and a reluctance to let you get to know the new friends
  5. A “nothing matters” attitude: sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy
  6. Alcohol presence: finding it in your child’s room or backpack or smelling alcohol on his or her breath
  7. Physical or mental problems: memory lapses, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, or slurred speech
  8. Secretiveness: reluctance to share their whereabouts

Although these signs may indicate a problem with alcohol or other substances, some also reflect normal growing pains, which is why it’s important not to jump to conclusions. However, if you notice several of these signs at the same time, if they occur suddenly, or if they are extreme in nature, it may be indicative of a drinking problem. 

What To Do If Your Child Has Been Drinking

Remain calm – While it may seem difficult in the moment to stay calm, it’s important not to immediately jump to conclusions or play the blame game. Let your child know that you are aware that they have been drinking, then take some time to settle down, to ease out of whatever shock, anger, or powerlessness you may be feeling.

Talk about what happened –  Listen to your kid, gathering information about their perspective of what happened, why, and what they think now. Through their own processing, your child can decide alcohol is bad for them on their own.

Help them understand why alcohol is harmful to them – Explain to your child the dangerous long-term effects of alcohol. Make it clear that you’re not just being irrational and emphasize your concern for their safety.

Identify steps for future prevention – Having reflected on the situation, it’s time to partner with your kid for the future. What consequences are necessary now and what can be put in place to break the pattern for next time? 

And Remember…

It’s important to remember that this is not a one-time discussion, but rather an ongoing conversation. Keep an eye on your child and check in with them regularly, because young people are more likely to drink if they think no one will notice. 

Parent Up is here to help. Check out our collection of online tools and resources for more facts on drinking, tips for starting a conversation with your child, and tips on how you can prevent underage drinking.

Sources:
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2007.
2. https://www.addictioncenter.com/teenage-drug-abuse/underage-drinking/

 

Alcohol Advertising – How It Influences Youth Perceptions on Drinking

This month, Ryan Shafer, Community Development Specialist with the Clay County Health Center, describes the effect of alcohol advertising on youth, and the correlation it has with underage drinking.

Advertising is everywhere, and alcohol-related advertising is no exception. In 2011 alone, 14 major alcohol marketers spent a whopping $3.45 billion on advertising.1 According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, youth aged 11 to 14 see an average of 2 to 4 alcohol advertisements every day.2 While the purpose of advertising is to inform consumers about a product, it’s also meant to enhance a company’s image and convince customers to make a purchase. This has the potential to be dangerous in situations where alcohol ads are put in front of the eyes of youth.

The Research

Alcohol companies try to portray their brand as cool, stylish, and fun. Anyone who was once a teenager can attest to how appealing that would seem! Wanting to feel popular and liked is normal, but for a high schooler, feeling popular can mean everything. 

So what impact does alcohol advertising have on youth, and is there a correlation to underage drinking? A study that followed 7th to 9th graders examined this question in-depth and found that ads did in fact have a profound effect on underage drinking. 

At the start, students were divided into two groups; initial non-drinkers (who had never had a sip of alcohol) and initial drinkers. What they found was that by grade 9, nearly half of the 7th graders that were non-drinkers became drinkers, and that in-store advertisements had the greatest influence with this group.3

Other studies published found similar results. A 2015 study found that receptivity to television alcohol advertising among underage participants was a predictor of the onset of drinking, binge drinking, and hazardous drinking.4 Findings from another study revealed that the more alcohol advertisements youth saw above the average resulted in an increase in the number of drinks they consumed each month.5 

What Can Parents Do?

Beyond modelling responsible behavior, it’s important for parents to have conversations with their kids in order to empower them to make smart choices independent of the influence of big corporations. As a parent, you have significant influence over your child’s choices. In fact, a 2016 Roper youth report found that parents have 71 times more influence on their child’s decision to drink than alcohol advertising.6  

The Federal Trade Commission has created a list of guiding questions to help improve the “media literacy” of your child and teach them to think critically about the advertisements they see. Tailoring the message to your child’s age and attention level, pick an ad you see and draw out their thoughts by asking questions like:

  • Who created or paid for the ad, and why?
  • What do they want you to do?
  • What techniques are being used to make the scene and the product look attractive? For example, 
    • Who are the people in the ad and how do they look?  
    • What are they doing, and where? 
    • Does the ad try to associate the brand with fun, or sports, or humor? How?
    • Does the ad suggest that alcohol somehow makes the situation better?
    • How does this ad make you feel? Is this an accident, or did the advertiser intend it?
    • What message is the ad trying to get you to believe?
    • What values and lifestyles are represented by this ad?
    • What isn’t the ad saying? Does it show anything bad about alcohol? 

The aim of this exercise is to help your child better understand an ad and challenge the message behind it. It’s meant to help your child realize that they don’t have to accept an advertiser’s message at face value.

Start the Conversation on Underage Drinking Today

You can’t always control all the advertising your child gets exposed to, but you can empower them to think critically and make smart decisions. The conversations you have with your child about drinking will have a bigger impact than you think! Teaching your teenagers to evaluate advertisements and question the purpose behind them is a critical first step in allowing them to make smart decisions.

Unsure of how to approach a conversation about drinking with your child? Check out our list of talking points to help guide the conversation.

Ryan Shafer

Ryan Shafer is a Community Development Specialist with the Clay County Health Center in Liberty Missouri. In 2015 he earned his master’s in public health from the University of Missouri focusing on policy and behavior change. As a Community Development Specialist he works with numerous school coalitions on implementing tobacco and alcohol prevention programs based on the latest research available. He is passionate about improving the health of communities through creating partnerships, implementing policies, and use of best practices to progress health equity for all.

Sources

1. Federal Trade Commission. (2014). Self-Regulation in the Alcohol Industry

2. Collins, R. L., Martino, S. C., Kovalchik, S. A., Becker, K. M., Shadel, W. G., & D’Amico, E. J. (May 2016). Alcohol advertising exposure among middle school–age youth: An assessment across all media and venues. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 77(3), 384–392

3. Collins, Rebecca L., Phyllis L. Ellickson, Daniel F. McCaffrey, and Katrin Hambarsoomian, Forging the Link Between Alcohol Advertising and Underage Drinking. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2006. Accessed on June 10th, 2019 Available at: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9073.html

4. Tanski SE, McClure AC, Li Z, et al. Cued Recall of Alcohol Advertising on Television and Underage Drinking Behavior. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(3):264–271. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.3345

5. L.B. Snyder, F.F. Milici, M. Slater, H. Sun, and Y. Strizhakova, “Effects of Alcohol Advertising Exposure on Drinking Among Youth,” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 160 (2006): 18-24

6. GfK Roper Youth Report. Americans age 13-17.2016 Accessed on June 27th, 2019. Available at: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2016/images/09/07/influencesonyouthsdecisionsaboutdrinking-2016-03-11.pdf 

What To Do If You Find Out An Adult Is Providing Alcohol

Mother comforting her son

This month, Laura Bruce, describes a dilemma parents commonly discuss with her in her role as a prevention specialist.

“There were two kids passed out on the couch.”


This is what my son just told me. It was one of those special moments when my teenager actually opened up to me about his weekend and his friends. He was vulnerable, and I could tell that he was scared I was going to get really mad. I tried really hard to maintain composure, just listening, waiting for him to tell me more. He explained that he didn’t drink but all his friends did, some of them drinking so much they passed out. I ask about the parents, and he shared that they were upstairs and they knew that everyone was drinking— it was the parents who bought the alcohol. Then he went quiet–he really didn’t want me to dislike those parents or his friends. I consoled my son, thanking him for confiding in me and telling him I was so proud for not drinking. I told him that he can always call me if kids start drinking and I’d come get him ASAP. I gave him a hug.


Phew. My heart pounded as I left the conversation. On one hand, my kid was fine. He did the right thing and I’m so glad he was honest with me. On the other hand, I was furious that this parent provided alcohol to MY kid and his friends. Didn’t they know they were setting up kids for a host of immediate and long-term problems?  

Nancy B. Kansas City, Missouri

Alarming Stats

In my job as a prevention specialist, I hear stories like this from parents all the time. They’re angry that the providers of alcohol are other adults or parents who should know better.

The alarming truth is that kids in the Kansas City Northland rarely get alcohol from retailers; their source is usually older friends or family members. In the Missouri Student Survey conducted in 2018, 62.2% of adolescents claimed to have acquired alcohol through a friend, while 41.6% stated that they got alcohol through family members. And while parents may think they’re doing the right thing because they’re “supervising” the situation, the reality is that they’re contributing to the problem.

Now What?

As a parent, the steps you take today will have a profound impact on the health and future well-being of your children. That’s why it’s crucial to speak up and play a proactive role in preventing underage drinking. Parent Up provides a ton of resources for having conversations with your child about underage drinking so they’re more likely to make the right decision in the moment.   

If you find yourself in a sticky situation similar to Nancy’s in the story above, you may feel conflicted on what to do. Here are a few approaches you can take if you discover that other adults or parents are providing alcohol or allowing underage drinking:

  • Call law enforcement
  • Contact the adult directly
  • Notify your school or other parents

If you don’t feel comfortable taking these steps or they’re not the best options for your situation, we’ve created a warning letter you can send. It’s a sensitively written letter that informs the adult that it is known they provided alcohol to minors and outlines the dangers associated with underage drinking. Visit our Parent Warning Letter webpage for more information on how to use this resource.

We’re Here To Help

At Parent Up, our mission is to equip parents with facts, resources and tools to prevent underage drinking in the Northland. To learn more about what you can do to prevent underage drinking, check out our collection of online tools and resources!

Laura Bruce
Laura Bruce
Program Director Specialist

Laura Bruce is the Program Development Specialist at Tri-County Mental Health Services, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri.  She is a certified prevention specialist and enjoys the challenge of proactively working to reduce and prevent problems that affect everyone in our community.  In her current role, she works with multiple coalitions throughout the Kansas City Northland with the aim of reducing drug and alcohol use among youth. Using programs like Parent Up, we work to mobilize our community and parents to protect area youth from the harmful effects of underage drinking.

Alcohol and the Teen Brain

Sad Drunk Woman on Armchair with Empty Bottles

This month Elise Bennett, a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist in Kansas City, Missouri, writes about why teenagers are more vulnerable to alcohol, the impact alcohol has on the teen brain, and what you can do as a parent to prevent underage drinking.

Alcohol and the Teen Brain

The brain is not fully developed until at least the mid-twenties with the adolescent years being a crucial period in brain development. Because of this, teens are much more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol than adults.

Many of the teens that I work with in my practice are transparent about using alcohol as a coping strategy to manage their stress, depression, or anxiety. Since the alcohol often perpetuates the problem, a teen drinks more and more in a setting looking for the “benefits” they see marketed for alcohol in movies and the media.

Why Teens are More Vulnerable to Harmful Effects of Alcohol

The part of the brain undergoing the most growth during the adolescent years is the portion involved in impulse control, rule learning, and decision making. Developmentally, teens are in a stage where they don’t believe bad things will actually happen to them. Their ability to weigh risk versus reward is underdeveloped. This means decision making is often weighted more heavily toward the option that feels most fun in the moment without much consideration for the long-term impact.

Making healthy choices can even be seen in more benign examples of how teens weigh the importance of their schoolwork. When given the option of receiving five dollars for each day in a week they completed their homework or $50 on Friday if they complete their homework every day, an overwhelming number of teens chose to receive the instant gratification of having five dollars in their pocket. Similarly, teens that I work with describe the difficulty of choosing between the hope that consuming alcohol will be fun in the moment or delaying the instant gratification to maintain trust and respect from their parents.

Adolescent drinking beer - alcoholism among young adults
 Teens are in a stage of development where they don’t believe bad things will actually happen to them.

The Short and Long-term Consequences of Underage Drinking

A central nervous system depressant, alcohol slows down the brain and breathing, and heart rate and consciousness follow. In the short term, alcohol creates noticeable deficits in memory, impaired speech, impaired decision making, loss of muscle growth, deregulated sleep, and decreased ability to manage stress.

Because the teen brain is still building its architecture, alcohol and other drugs have the possibility of changing the trajectory of brain development. In the longer term, alcohol creates diminished gray matter in the brain, inability to think abstractly, memory loss, and loss of attention span.

While most cells in the body regenerate, cells damaged in the brain by alcohol are not replaced.

What Parents Can Do To Prevent Underage Drinking

Teens crave connection with their parents. I hear from parents regularly that they believe they are no longer relevant to their children once they hit adolescence. The reality, however, is that parents have the most influence over whether or not a teen chooses to drink underage. Over and over again, teen clients of mine verbalize the desire for their parents to ask them questions about their friends, their hobbies, and their identity.

Talking to your children, limiting access and refusing to give alcohol to your children are the most effective ways to impact an adolescent’s alcohol consumption.

Here are more ways you can minimize your teen’s risk of underage drinking:

  • Talk to other parents about not having alcohol at parties with your child.
  • Check in with your teenager before and after they go out.
  • Set clear expectations for behavior.
  • Practice good supervision and consistent discipline.
  • Minimize conflict in the family.
  • Eat dinner as a family as often as possible—this is a good time to talk about the issues your children face in a non-threatening way.

As a parent, you have the power to affect positive change in your children’s lives. Learn more about what you can do to prevent underage drinking!

 

Elise Bennett

Elise Bennett is a Clinically Licensed Therapist who works with adolescents, adults, and families. Elise works very closely with area school districts to collaborate treatment plans and mental health outcomes to benefit both her clients and the Northland adolescent community. Elise sits on the Executive Board for the Missouri Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Greater Kansas City Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and the Liberty Alliance for Youth. She has extensive lobbying, workshop and conference presentation experience including guest lecturing at area Universities and social service organizations.

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