Q: Recognizing that some of our teenage children go to parties and are more likely to experiment with alcohol this time of year, what can we do to help them stay safe?
A: Certainly, consumption of alcohol under the age of 21 is against the law and we should discourage our children from drinking and educate them about some of the harmful effects. Unfortunately, “risk/consequence” judgment is usually not in most teenagers’ vocabulary. As much as we hate to condone the use of alcohol in our youths, we do them a tremendous disservice by ignoring that it exists. The single most important thing is for them to be safe and for them to know that this is important to you.
First and foremost, talk to your children. Feel free to let them know that you are strongly opposed to them drinking now or even when older. Also, let them know that they might face pressure to try alcohol at parties or other social events. This way, they can at least avoid being put on the spot, which tends to contribute to poor decision-making. Whether they make the decision you would prefer is certainly impossible to guarantee, but at least they may have given it some thought and they know that it’s on your mind as well. As is true with most similar subjects, making it not be “taboo” can help your child feel comfortable seeking your guidance.
Secondly, educate your children about safe transportation if they or their friends drink. A very effective tool is them knowing that you will pick them up NO QUESTIONS ASKED if they call and ask for a ride if either they or their peers have consumed any alcohol (or used any other substance). If children fear that there is a 100% chance that they’ll get in trouble if Mom or Dad knows that they have been drinking, this will take precedence over the lower likelihood of getting pulled over or being in an accident. Let them know that if they are at a friend’s house and have been drinking, you would rather them stay there once they start.
It is also important to educate children about the potential for malevolence. They should be taught that, if they do decide to drink, they should only consume a beverage that was prepared in front of them to avoid the possibility of other substances being mixed in the drink with the purpose of sedating them or making them more suggestible.
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If you and your children are among the many struggling to cope with the tragic mass shooting in Connecticut, your pediatrician is there to help you. Resources that you may find helpful can be found at healthychildren.org, a website sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has unfortunately had to devote an entire webpage to this topic. One such document is titled "Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event-A GUIDE FOR PARENTS, CAREGIVERS, AND TEACHERS."
I hope that you and your family have a wonderful, memorable, safe, and healthy holiday season.
If you have a question about your child's health or happiness, ask Dr. Eichner or any of our experts by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian Eichner is a general pediatrician and assistant professor of Pediatrics atDuke Children's Primary Care-Roxboro Street
in Durham. He enjoys providing care for children who are healthy as well as those with complex medical conditions. Dr. Eichner also serves as the medical director of the Duke Pediatric Diagnostic Clinic. He and his wife have lived in the Triangle since 2006.