Are high school and college kids destined to drink heavily? Not according to scientific study. Research at
universities around the nation show that parents who lay down the law about underage drinking really do help their kids say no to drinking. This is important since studies also demonstrate how drinking during the years before college graduation can harm the brain in measurable ways.
Years of neuro-scientific study have shown that the human brain continues developing far into a person’s first years of adulthood. The pre-frontal cortex – the area responsible for judgment, reasoning and self-control – is not fully formed until a person is in their mid-to-late 20s. That means that the brain is
not completely formed and functional until after most people finish their college education.
A study performed through the University of California, San Diego found that binge drinking during
adolescence can produce abnormalities in brain white matter. White matter is the stuff which creates communication bridges between various areas of the brain. The U.C. San Diego study found that a habit of binging (five or more drinks for a man and four or more for a women) can degrade memory and cognitive
function within as little as two years’ time. A certain number of the teens in the study showed impaired memory and cognition with as few as a dozen drinks per month.
Apart from giving kids the information about drinking and the brain, what more can parents do to keep young people away from alcohol? A good deal actually. Another study, this one performed through Penn State University, found that parents who held a firm line against underage drinking had kids who were less likely to drink once they got to college. The study tracked 300 parents and teens from high
school and into their freshman year of college. The study found a link between parental acceptance of drinking and a young person’s drinking behavior even after they left home.
A third study, at the University of Rhode Island, found that parents who were careful to be informed about where their teen was, who they were with and what they were doing during high school had kids who tended to drink less once they got to college. These studies and more were the subject of an NPR broadcast on the role parents can play in their children’s drinking decisions.
Here in Buchanan County, parents can join together to help teens have fun without using alcohol.
Sponsored by the Youth Alliance, BC Rocks is a collaboration between area moms and dads interested in taking a community stand against underage drinking. By signing up for BC Rocks parents are going on the record as hosts where alcohol will never be served to minors and homes where parents will be
paying attention to what teens are doing.
Parents who let their kids know that drinking is not okay can lower the chances that their child will drink heavily once outside of the house. Parents who stand together can make a county-wide impact. Contact the St. Joseph Youth Alliance to find out how to sign up today.
What is the strongest factor influencing whether or not your teen will drink alcohol? A study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points to the attitudes of friends as the number one determining influence on when and whether a young person drinks.
The study surveyed 820 teenagers ages 14 – 17 from six separate locations across the nation. The majority of the teens came from high-risk situations but fewer than 50 percent had an alcoholic mother or father. The researchers looked at the age each teen had taken their first drink of alcohol and then looked at other contributing factors such as degree of social skills, whether their closest friends drank, family history of alcohol abuse, and assessments for disruptive behavior (i.e.: were the teens natural troublemakers).
Researchers found that close to half (four out of 10) of the teens who drank at an early age also reported having best friends who were drinkers. Compared to all the other examined risk factors, having a close friend who drinks makes it twice as likely that a young person will drink.
There is a good news/bad news angle to the friendship factor however. Research conducted in 2012 underlined the powerful influence of close friends, but it went a step beyond to assert that even the parents of close friends can influence a teenager.
This means that if a best buddy has a permissive parent, drinking may be encouraged. It also means that friends with strict, tee-totaling parents can also exert some influence. That particular study found teens whose friends had authoritative mothers were significantly less apt to drink, smoke tobacco or use marijuana compared to kids with permissive moms and dads.
The importance of delaying a person’s first experience with drinking cannot be over-emphasized. Drinking before age 14 is a risk factor for later adult alcohol dependency in numerous studies. The medical and physical risks of drinking for teens are a litany of reasons why young people should wait to drink alcohol. But if friends can exert this much influence over a teen’s decision to drink, what is a parent to do?
First, keep in mind that the parents of friends share in the best friend influence factor. You can be a positive influence on your teen’s friends in discouraging early alcohol use. Second, just because parents don’t have the strongest voice, doesn’t mean that they have no voice. Moms and dads should talk with their teens about their feelings on alcohol use.
Finally, the Youth Alliance has developed BC Rocks as a way for parents to connect with other like-minded moms and dads who will be that second tier influence away from underage drinking. Check out the BC Rocks participation pages to see if your teen is headed to a home where the adults are standing tall and speaking against underage drinking by refusing to turn a blind eye.