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A Summer of Fun or a Summer of Dangerous Underage Drinking?

Parents need to set clear rules regarding alcohol use and provide positive examples to influence their teens.
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Summer is a season where everything is more relaxed. Us parents tend to feel a little less anxious when we are not worrying about our children's academic achievements. However, summer is also the season when our kids have more time on their hands, they have less responsibilities and less parental/adult supervision. Parents may not enforce the same rules that they do during the school year, which can sometimes result in illegal and dangerous activity.

As much as we don't want to admit it, there's more potential for underage drinking during the summer months. A recent survey conducted by Caron Treatment Centers revealed that 61 percent of respondents (adults 18-40) named summer as the time teens are most likely to drink.

The most shocking statistics in this survey revealed the inconsistency between how adults feel about underage drinking. A surprising 41 percent believe it's best for teens to learn to drink responsibly in high school rather than wait until they are of age. In addition, nearly 31 percent said their parents accepted underage drinking (allowing parties, providing alcohol, allowing drinking without driving or simply not addressing the subject).

I was talking with my 16-year-old son about the survey and asked him if he was surprised to know that underage drinking is more prevalent in the summer. He said, "No, Mom, I'm not surprised at all." My son went on and said, "In the summer, you don't have to wait for the weekend; every night is a party night if you want it to be."

Rules are not as strict in the summer months with parents: no school, no homework and not as many organized school activities or sports. Teens are home 'alone' while parents are at work, making it much easier to steal from the liquor cabinet. Plus, since students from college are home, getting alcohol is a breeze as they are typically the suppliers for underage drinkers.

Parents that are more lenient when it comes to underage drinking may not realize that alcohol consumption can severely affect the physical and emotional development of teens. Parents may not be aware their teens are using, or are in denial of how alcohol can physically and mentally harm their child. In order to reduce the amount of underage drinking, it's imperative for parents to set an effective example of responsible drinking through their own actions. This can be difficult in the summer with all of the parties and social events that seem to center around drinking, but this is exactly where children will pick up parents' habits.

When drinking and entertaining in the presence of their children, parents need to set an example and act responsibly. If a mother or father is intoxicated in these situations, it gives teens the impression that when people drink, the goal is to get drunk and inappropriate or risky behavior is accepted. 70 percent of the Caron survey respondents recalled an adult in their life engaging in inappropriate behavior when under the influence of alcohol. The behavior of an intoxicated adult sends the wrong message to their underage children.

My husband and I have ongoing conversations with our children about the harmful effects and consequences of underage drinking. We sometimes use tragic examples that occur in our community to effectively show our boys what can happen when alcohol is consumed underage or in excess. This is in addition to the fact that I am an alcoholic in recovery, and they may very well have the same hereditary factors. We have rules that we expect our boys to respect while living in our home. In fact, they are a part of helping to create theses rules, and they fully understand why they are in place.

When I was in my active addiction and I would have too much to drink at night, facing my children the next day was emotionally painful for all of us. My children were often hurt and confused by my behavior from the night before. Once I went to Caron and was educated that I had a disease, I was given the tools to talk with my children about my drinking. I encouraged them to ask me questions; some were more painful than others, but I would answer as honestly as possible. I wanted them to be comfortable talking about the topic of drinking and alcoholism, and to help educate them about the devastating effects, using myself as an example. My boys also sought counseling with an age appropriate therapist who had a background in addiction, which helped them to openly discuss their feelings with professional guidance. Maintaining an open dialogue is the most important thing, and encourages your children to be open with others about the topic as well.

When a teen is caught drinking, parents need to educate their children on the devastating effects alcohol can have. Parents can't just say, "Don't drink!" They also can't just lecture. Children need to have specific examples on the negative and serious impacts alcohol can have presently and in the future: getting into college, playing sports, their future career, their health and wellbeing and how they will be perceived by others. Having candid, open dialogues about the dangers of drinking and about your family's expectations regarding drinking is critical to lay the foundation for healthy communications.

Parents need to set clear rules regarding alcohol use and provide positive examples to influence their teens. Consequences need to be enforced and set in stone - say what you mean and mean what you say. By sending consistent messages as parents, we're helping our teens make better decisions until they're making them all on their own, no matter what the season.