Our children look forward to summer, but parents of adolescents should remember it's an especially important time to talk to your kids about avoiding alcohol.
Kristie Neklason, a substance abuse treatment and prevention expert with Youth Eastside Services, shared some insights with KING 5's Mark Wright.
K5: Is part of the challenge that parents are often working and there is less supervision?
KN: Yes, that is definitely a factor: With summer we see an increase in risky behaviors because kids aren't in school they have more time on their hands, and if they can get a job, they have more money. They tend to spend more time with their peers and as you say, with many parents working, then there are fewer eyes on the kids.
• Societal influences tell us that summer is a fun time for relaxing and hanging with friends. And alcohol is often a part of that.
• Teens take notice of that, so there is an increase of drug and alcohol use in the summer.
• As ParentMap talks about in an article in the June issue that's out right now, parents need to persist and have these conversations, even in the face of teenage stubbornness.
K5: One year ago, the liquor laws changed so hard alcohol could be sold in grocery stores. What's been the impact of that, both in studies, and what have you seen 'on the ground' as substance abuse counselors?
KN: According to the 2012 Healthy Youth Survey—a survey done in all grades 6, 8, 10 and 12- there has been a decrease in total alcohol use but we continue to see alcohol as the most common drug used by teens, along with increasing marijuana use. However, these surveys are taken in the fall, so they lag a little.
Youth being assessed at Youth Eastside Services for substance abuse issues are reporting that they have shoplifted hard liquor, and that was not something we would see when liquor was only sold in state stores.
One local diversion officer on the eastside reported that nearly all shoplifting cases for boys, involved liquor.
K5: Is the exposure to alcohol in grocery and drug stores, and the assorted flavors, combined with advertising, is this all raising an awareness among teens?
KN: Absolutely, and not in a good way:
o Those who are maybe looking to experiment see it front and center and may be more open to trying it.
o Those who are already taking risks may see it as an opportunity to shoplift.
o And those who have had problems and are trying to abstain are being tempted. Our clients in Recovery especially say this has really impacted them.
So yes, there is a change in the normalization of alcohol use, and marijuana for that matter.
K5: What should a parent do if they think their child is drinking?
KN: Parents need to counteract the positive messages about drinking that teens are absorbing, taking a reasoned view in presenting the other side of alcohol use with risks of overdose, addiction, accidents, etc.
• Be a moderator— That is, don't communicate that drinking is ok by not saying anything about it, but don't tell a teen they should never do it—they won't listen then. Educate them about how adolescent brains process these substances differently. The risk of addiction. Be rational and reasonable.
• Role-play situations involving alcohol: It's a great idea to talk to them before the issues arise. A useful tool is saying "what would you do if, what do you think about…":
- A bottle of alcohol gets passed down the row of your friends at a movie.
- At a party, your friend brags that she brought liquor "minis" that she shoplifted from the drug store.
- A farmer's market vendor assumes you and your friends are over 21 and invites you to sample wine.
• Make Clear your Family Values: And make sure your child knows the family values and expectations around drugs and alcohol. Statements like: "In this family we don't use alcohol until we are of legal age. I do not want you to drink until you are of legal age; there are too many negative consequences."
• Don't Send Mixed Messages: Of course setting a good example with your own behavior is important, and in not doing things like letting kids taste your drinks, or pouring them wine on special occasions—then they're not getting a clear message that they should not be drinking alcohol.
It's good to know that study after study has found that when parents communicate their disapproval of a risky behavior, kids are less likely to participate in it.
For more information about this and other parenting topics, go to Parentmap.com.