Experts say that around 80 percent of teens experiment with alcohol before they finish high school. Since drinking is illegal for them and contrary to the wishes of most parents why do so many teens take the chance? Here are some common reasons why teens decide to start drinking.
Most of the explanations behind teen experimentation with alcohol have to do with handling pressure. Profound pressure added to immature stress management can lead to a teen’s making the choice to use alcohol. Teens lack the skill set to handle stress well, yet they are confronted with pressures from any number of directions.
To begin with, peers and friends begin to replace parents and family as primary influences during the teen years. Teens who imagine that drinking is somehow linked to acceptance find it hard to resist the need to fit in. Friends exert more influence during adolescence than at any other period of life.
Some kind of major change in a teen’s life can trigger experimentation with alcohol. A move, for example, is a change and change equals stress. Whether the teen moves to a new state, a new city or just a new school, the anxiety of change is present. When they don’t know how else to handle anxiety, alcohol can seem like an escape from a difficult reality.
High school students today are getting the message that it is not enough to go to class and make good grades. They feel they are expected to participate in sports and other extra-curricular activities as well. Most teens sense that they are expected to excel in every endeavor at the same time that they feel they are being spread too thin. These kinds of unrealistic expectations, whether real or imagined, are behind at least some of the drinking that goes on in high school. Other stress-inducing problems like bullying have also escalated in recent years.
Sometimes teens start drinking not because of what is going on at school, but because of what is going on at home. Parental conflict and disharmony in the family can produce anxiety and deep tension for teens that are old enough to understand some of the dynamics and foresee some of the potential outcomes. Teens with troubled homes are several times more likely to experiment with drinking.
Teens may turn to alcohol to cope with depression, anxiety or stress. Other times, teens see alcohol as a fun way to behave like an adult. The way drinking is portrayed in the media and on social networking sites feeds this sort of misapprehension about alcohol use.
Some stresses, such as expectations and family peace, can be controlled by parents but many cannot. What parents can do to reduce the likelihood that their teen will experiment with alcohol is to stay engaged and informed. Parents who know where their teens are and who they are with reduce the chances that their teen will find it convenient to make a risky decision like drinking.
BC Rocks was created to support parents in steering teens away from alcohol. Those who participate in the BC Rocks sign-up lend themselves to the community effort to keep underage drinking from happening.
For a lot of teens, drinking alcohol can be a way to fit in. Unsure of themselves and insecure about their ability to be accepted, some teens will decide to drink. The cruel irony of this decision is that, in some school environments, the teen winds up feeling even more ostracized and alone than the kids who don’t go ahead and drink. And once the teen feels apart from the crowd, grades begin to suffer too.
According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, the problem is most pronounced in small schools where few students drink and where there are strong social cliques. For the teen that drinks, he or she feels like part of the group only when they are with other drinking students. The rest of the time, using alcohol makes them feel lonely and isolated from their peers.
The study found that when teens feel like they don’t fit in with other students it shows up as bad grades. Even smart and very bright students find it difficult to overcome the social stress of not feeling included and fitting in. In fact, the researchers, who carefully tracked grades, discovered at least a one point drop in GPA when a teen was struggling with social issues.
Researchers from the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Michigan analyzed data gathered through the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health – a study that is considered to be the most far-reaching study of high school teens to date. Information on nearly 8,300 teenagers from 126 schools around the nation was used. Researchers factored out issues such as race, gender, ethnicity and social/economic status.
The results of this analysis revealed that drinking created more social anxiety than it cured and that stress led to a lower academic performance, most particularly in small school with tight-knit friendship groups. The researchers said that their findings don’t indicate that teens who drink would fare better in schools with cliques accepting of drinking. Instead, they warn that some school environments which may seem positive (e.g.: small schools with anti-drinking attitudes) are not necessarily helpful environments.
Social-emotional development and academic performance are clearly intertwined. So helping students to develop positive social interactions can actually improve a teen’s learning and school performance. Parents need to be attentive to both aspects of their teen’s development.
Here in BuchananCounty the St Joseph Youth Alliance wants to help parents create positive social environments. The program BC Rocks encourages parents of teens to sign a public pledge to keep their house that kind of environment. Parents who sign the BC Rocks pledge are giving their word of honor to keep alcohol away from teens and to provide adequate supervision when teens gather in their home. We encourage all parents to sign up and help kids find a better place to fit in.
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.
Do you think that by allowing your teenager to have alcohol at home you can de-mystify alcohol and safely monitor its use? Or have you heard that that if teens are allowed to drink under your roof that they will not be as likely to abuse alcohol later on? These are common myths that many parents have heard and believe.
The Partnership at Drugfree.org wants to help parents get the facts about teens and drinking, including teens who are permitted by their parents to drink in the house. To help parents better understand the consequences of serving alcohol to minors the Partnership at Drugfree.org has joined together with The Treatment Research Institute to create an interactive website where moms and dads can access research-based information.
Some parents fall into the trap of believing that permitting kids to drink at home de-mystifies alcohol making it less likely that they will want to irresponsibly drink as they grow up. In fact, the reverse is true. Serving alcohol to minors makes it more likely (not less) that teens will drink as they grow up.
Other parents worry that holding a tight line against drinking will encourage rebellious drinking by their teen as soon as they leave home post-high school. In fact, studies show that teens who think their parents have a permissive attitude toward alcohol drinking often drink more than kids from homes with stricter attitudes against alcohol.
Parents who decide to serve alcohol to their teens sometimes point to Europe where families commonly serve alcohol even to young family members. These parents should be aware that doing so does not insulate kids against problem drinking later on. In fact, in Europe, where alcohol is more free-flowing, kids get drunk sooner and experience higher rates of alcohol abuse as they get older compared to kids growing up in American families.
The facts show that it is neither safe nor preventive to serve alcohol to teens, even at home. In fact, it is illegal to do so. Parents can look at the Drugfee.org website to find out what legal liabilities exist in their state.
Here in St Joseph, Missouri the Youth Alliance is sponsoring a program titled BC Rocks. BC stands for Buchanan County and the program encourages parents to go on record as a home where alcohol will not be served to minors. Parents who allow their teens to spend time at someone else’s home can look up the family’s name on the BC Rocks registry to see if it is an alcohol-free environment.
Serving alcohol to underage teenagers does nothing to prevent alcohol abuse. The facts show that making it clear to teens that alcohol use will not be permitted does work to prevent abuse. Youth Alliance has formed the BC Rocks campaign to help parents to stand together against teen alcohol use.