Talking to Teens about Alcohol for Prom and Graduation

It’s the end of the year, which means a couple of huge events for high school seniors–prom and graduation. Almost every form of popular media portrays these events as some kind of boozy celebration, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

With all the talk of dresses and suits, corsages and ties, robes and diplomas, parents can insert another incredibly important topic, too–underage drinking and the risks of drinking alcohol at this pivotal moment.

After all, this spring marks the beginning of their adult lives. Drinking alcohol now could jeopardize all they’ve worked for.

The Danger of Alcohol for Teens

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 251 teen motor vehicle deaths in May and 236 in June of 2017. Fifty-one percent of teen motor vehicle crash deaths occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, compared to older drivers, teens are at a greater risk of involvement in a motor vehicle crash at all levels of blood alcohol concentration. When you add in other risk factors, such as the mere presence of teen passengers, the crash risk for unsupervised teens goes up. This is concerning, given that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.

So in a prom or graduation night situation, when teens might drink to “celebrate” and then drive around together late at night, the possibility of a fatal crash seems more likely.

That’s why this is a critical point for parents to intervene and chat with youth about underage drinking.

Committing to Talking to Teens about Alcohol

According to the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey (IYS), less than half of Chicago 12th graders reported that their parents or guardians talked to them about not using alcohol in the past year, compared to 54 percent of 10th graders and 53 percent of 8th graders. At the same time, Chicago 12th graders are more likely to have drunk alcohol in the past year: 51 percent reported using alcohol in the past year, compared to 42 percent of 10th graders and 39 percent of 8th graders.

As your teens grow up, it’s important to have “the talk” about alcohol consistently and over time.

Amy Hill, the executive director of the Injury Prevention & Research Center at Lurie Children’s Hospital, said she has committed to chatting with her 13-year-old about alcohol in a consistent way.

“I talk to my 13-year-old about making good choices all the time. It’s an ongoing conversation,” she said as part of a social media takeover for #IGotThisChicago earlier this year. “As you get more comfortable, you can expand the conversations to cover a myriad of topics. Youth today are under a lot of different pressures, so they definitely need help staying on a positive path.”

Talking to Your Teenager about Drinking

Starting the conversation can feel a little awkward at first, but if you stick by these tips and talk about these issues consistently over time, it may begin to feel more natural.

  1. Show you disapprove of underage drinking. The 2018 IYS reports that 75 percent of Chicago 8th graders believe their parents would think it is “very wrong” to drink alcohol regularly. Only 51 percent for Chicago 12th graders feel the same way. Make sure your older teens know how you feel about underage drinking.
  2. Show you care about your child’s happiness and well-being. Young people are more likely to listen when they know you’re on their side. Work with your child, and tell them you care about their health and happiness.
  3. Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol. Share statistics and personal stories if you need to! The 2018 IYS reports that over half of 12th graders believed that more than 50 percent of their peers drank alcohol in the past 30 days. The real number was 39 percent.
  4. Show you’re paying attention and you’ll notice if your child drinks. Show your teen that you care about what’s going on in their lives. Young people may be more likely to drink if they think no one will notice.
  5. Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking. If teens have a plan to get out of sticky situations, they might be more able to avoid underage drinking. Help develop plans and skills with your youth to ensure they can make healthy choices

Remember – you don’t need to broach all of these topics in one conversation! If you spread it out, it could give your teen more time to think about these issues. Good luck, and keep the conversation going.

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