With underage drinking being so common among our youth, it's understandable that parents may tend to worry about their teens experimenting with alcohol, but it's important that we don't overreact to normal adolescent developmental changes.
Throughout adolescence, teens become more secretive, their bodies are changing, they're trying to find their place in the community and they're exploring limits and boundaries which is a normal part of growing up. While teens are trying to figure all of this out, parents may begin to notice their child's beginning to develop new and sometimes dissatisfying habits that are in the normal course of development.
However, parents shouldn't ignore the important signs below because they could be an indication that a child is experimenting with alcohol.
- Negative behavior in school and a drop in grades
- Mood swings and/or changes in personality
- A change in their peer group or having more negative friends that are known to experiment with alcohol
- Excessive use or heavy use of mouth wash or mints
- Unusual need for money
- Alcoholic beverages missing from home
- The obvious physical signs of red eyes, slurred speech and poor coordination
Self-Evaluate Before Approaching a Child About Alcohol Use
Parents should self-evaluate before they approach their child if they think they're using alcohol. Parents need to think about their own relationship with alcohol first. For example:
- Do you drink?
- Have you ever drank in excess?
- Does a close relative drink?
In most cases, one out of every five people know an alcoholic. Once a parent(s) self-evaluates, they need to figure out the best way to approach their child. It's very important that a parent discuss these issues with their child. Parents need to be persistent if the child becomes resistant to even having the 'don't use alcohol' talk though. Unlike illegal substance use, there is no home test available that a parent can use should their child deny their use of alcohol. Alcohol's metabolized in the body much faster than marijuana for example.
What If the Child Confesses to Drinking?
Should a child confess to their use of alcohol when they're approached with the subject, parents need to find out what's going on in their life that could be leading them to drink. Often there's underlying problems that can lead to alcohol use during adolescents such as depression, low self-esteem, the need to be accepted, and stress that gone unnoticed. Parents should deal with these issues very carefully, they should never preach or become argumentative or belligerent with their child. Parents should always be open with their children, and even discuss the possibility of getting them counseling or other forms of help.
Having a Plan of Action
It's important to know that teens that consume alcohol are bright and often athletic people, and they don't view having a few beers to be a real problem of concern. Everyday though, there's reports of teenagers sadly dying because they were driving while intoxicated, or teens being arrested for public drunkenness and vandalism.
The truth is, drinking teens are troubled teens and parents can seek help from a psychologist if their child's drinking is related to problems within the family or parental drug use issues. Seeking help from medical professionals can be very helpful at this time, they can provide the teen with individual counseling and also offer guidance and counseling for the family.
There are also other forms of help parents may want to consider at this time such as community-based and out of home placement programs that offer preventive drug prevention services like inpatient substance abuse programs. Sometimes though, teenagers just need someone to talk with them one on one. In cases like this, an in-home program can be a very helpful option, children can receive private and individualized counseling and guidance from a trained professional that comes to the home.