Monkey see, monkey do…
Young children (often the cheekiest monkeys on the planet) are so heavily influenced by the behavior of those around them as they grow up, you could go so far as to call it a form of second-hand brainwashing. They see, they observe, they learn, and then they copy. Monkey see, monkey do, and monkey do again.
As parents, your responsibility in this respect is h-u-g-e. It’s virtually incalculable. How you act around your children is how your children will act around others later in life. Without even thinking about it.
Be the life-and-soul of any extended family party, always ready with a joke and a laugh and a smile for everyone, and, later in life, your child will be the same. Always the fun extrovert at college parties, for example.
Be an argumentative and narrow-minded person, and your children will grow up being argumentative and narrow-minded themselves.
Be a father who’s not bothered one iota if their son sees them completely wasted after a heavy day’s drinking, being rude and chauvinistic to his wife, and swearing profusely at anyone who’ll listen, and… you get the picture, don’t you? Monkey see, monkey do.
Today – April 1st (April Fool’s Day around the world, though few global citizens are laughing and joking with the current coronavirus lockdowns and constant daily news reports of death and infection, and so on), it was reported on the UK’s BBC News that, only last week across the three-quarters-locked-down United States, the sales of alcohol online had increased an incredible 243%, when compared to the same period last year.
243%… Also h-u-g-e, and according to a reputable market research firm, The Nielsen Company.
Shopping sales of alcohol increased 55% – not too bad for “essential business” retailers when you consider many customers aren’t even allowed to leave their house. Tequila and gin – party drinks, for sure – were apparently the people’s favorites. So who’s having all the parties?
In reality, that’s a lot of young, impressionable kids just watching their parents sitting around, TV on, and getting wasted – binge drinking – because they can’t follow their usual routine of commute, work, commute, and then only home in the evening.
Oh, yes – monkey see, monkey do.
Preventing teens from binge drinking can be a difficult task. The pressures of underage drinking from peers can push adolescents to do things that normally they would not, and when drunk, the risks associated with binge drinking become far more likely, such as DUIs, unprotected sex, and even criminal activities.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dL” (grams per deciliter) or more. This usually happens when men have 5 or more drinks, and when women have 4 or more drinks within a 2-hour time period.
The risks associated with binge drinking can be dangerous, and possibly fatal. Besides alcohol poisoning, which certainly can be fatal, here are some other risks your teen faces when drinking too much:
- Injuries (from car crashes, falls, and fire)
- Intentional injuries (like gun violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence)
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Unplanned pregnancy (and subsequently children possibly born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum)
- Liver disease
- Brain damage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
- Unintended weight gain
So what can be done about preventing binge drinking in teenagers? There is no one answer to this question, but there are these top 10 smart things to do that parents and caregivers use to keep any risks to a minimum.
1. Get Them Involved in Activities
One of the big reasons teens drink and do drugs is out of boredom. By stimulating your children through sports, academic extracurricular activities and other physical activity, you keep them engaged in their environment. They will be less likely to seek out bad behaviors to experience their world. Interacting with people and the outdoors sober is the biggest gift you can give your teen, especially if addiction runs in your family. Showing them how lovely and entertaining the world can be will give them the tools to cope later.
Ask a lot of drunk or high teenagers why they are doing alcohol, and you’ll hear a familiar reply… “Bored. Nothing else to do. Just really bored.” Most of the time, it really is as simple as that. The devil does indeed make work for those idle, young hands.
By stimulating your children through activities, such as sports, extracurricular academic activities, hobbies, and other physical activity, you can keep them engaged in their environment. They will be far less likely to seek out bad behaviors, such as binge drinking, “to further my teenage experience of the world” (it’s very doubtful you’ll ever hear that as an excuse, mind).
Interacting with new people or existing friends, and being in the great outdoors, 100% sober is the biggest gift you can give your teen, especially if drug or alcohol addiction runs in your family. Showing them how interesting, diverse and full-on entertaining the world can be will give them the tools to cope with periods of boredom later.
2. Keep an Open Line of Communication
An important step to ensuring your kids don’t binge drink (or drink at all) is to open up a constant line of communication. They should know that they can come to you for their needs. Although you are a parent and offering “judgment-free” advice isn’t likely – it’s crucial that your kids understand that no matter what they have to say, you will hear them out. Now it’s easier than ever to communicate with our children with cell phones and computers. While your child is not in the home, you can keep the communication going. Texting and email also allow your child to contact you in a way that’s not face-to-face if the topic of conversation is embarrassing or difficult for them to discuss.
Open and honest communication with your children, whatever age they are, should be one of your main goals as a parent. You want to be in the position where, if anything is bothering, worrying or upsetting your them, they know they can (and actually want to) discuss it with you – no questions asked. An ear that listens is far better than an ear that’s just waiting to hear the worst…
In our digitally-connected world, there’s also no reason for parents not to be connected to their kids, and vice versa, of course. Instant messaging and email (does that still exist?) also enable communication when distance separates you and can provide a mutual safe space to discuss something that may be too embarrassing or difficult for your child to talk about face-to-face.
If your teenager has been binge drinking, you will need to discuss it with them from a position of authority. That doesn’t mean starting with a “Do as I say!”-attitude and being heavy-handed with it – oh, no. It means being educated and knowledgeable about the real dangers of underage drinking, including binge drinking. So become aware, and learn statistics and facts like these:
If you’re a teenager who binge drinks, you are at risk of:
- Using other drugs, usually much potent
- Physical and sexual assault
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Violent behavior
- Serious injury
- Problems in school
Common causes of alcohol-related deaths in teens include:
- Alcohol poisoning
If you are a teenager with a driving license, and access to a car, remember that:
- 10% of teenagers in high school drink and drive
- Young drivers (ages 16-20) are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08% than when they have not been drinking
Binge Drinking & Its Effect on the Teenage Brain
Scientists state that the human brain does not fully mature until the age of 25. As a teenager, your brain is still growing, building pathways essential to its function, and maturing when these are established. Subjecting your brain to high alcohol consumption (and other substances) will have a profound effect on the level of maturity it reaches.
For example, long-term effects of teenage alcohol use include possibly severe structural impairments in brain regions responsible for tasks such as:
- Emotional regulation
- Working memory
- Visuospatial processing
- Attention level, and
- Verbal learning*
*These last two – attention and verbal learning – are vital for normal learning. By consuming alcohol, you are risking severe deficiencies in your ability to learn new things and retain what you have already learned.
3. Be An Active Part of Their Lives
A lot of drug and alcohol prevention is just trying to be a good parent. Being a good parent doesn’t mean supervising your teen’s every movement, but it does mean being around for the important parts. This communicates to them that they come to you during the best of times and the worst: they can trust you to be there for them when they need you. This strategy is a bit different from how some of our parents raised us. It was less common, in the past, to see parents at extracurricular activities. With alcohol and drug abuse among teens on the rise, however, it takes extra parenting to keep kids safe.
Do you know the best way to stop your teenage child using and then abusing drugs and alcohol? Quite simply, be a good parent. To be honest, you are likely, at some point, to know that teenager has tasted an alcoholic drink, and maybe even smoked a joint. However, a well-parented child is far less likely to begin abusing these substances or others.
Being a good parent has very little to do with observing (or even supervising) your teen’s every waking movement, but it certainly does mean being there for the moments in your teen’s life that really matter to them. Their important stuff. It is vital that every child knows that you, as their Dad or their Mom, will be there for them when they truly need you and want you to be. They are confident of this, so the level of trust in you is far greater.
That said, it’s also important to remember that when you are there, you are there in a positive way, being both supportive and being helpful, and you will stay for the duration, eg. you’re not going to up and leave halfway through, or be constantly distracted by your phone’s social media access.
4. Give Them Reasons to Say “No” to Binge Drinking
This is an extremely important tactic to keep teens from binge drinking. Helping adolescents form goals is imperative to their future in all things, not only in avoiding drugs and alcohol. By creating concrete goals, a teenager has something to lose if they were to drink underage and suffer consequences for it. Creating goals for your child, however, does not have the same effects. Sit down with your children and discuss goals. Tell them your goals and together, explore what your teen’s goals are. They may be to make the high school basketball team, get a part in the school play, or get into a favorite college. Whatever it is, encourage them to achieve and remind them of the risk they take by participating in illicit activities. The idea of not attaining their goals may be enough to deter them from underage drinking.
Boredom, peer group pressure, and the urge to do something new, even if it’s risky (every teenager wants that), are the main driving forces behind your adolescent wanting to (a.) drink alcohol, and (b.) drink a lot of alcohol. Therefore, if you can remove these things, and the impetus behind each, you’ll go a long way in ensuring your teenager learns there’s more to life and living than getting drunk all the time.
Boredom is resolved by harnessing your child’s desire to learn and to be curious. You can create an environment that stimulates them and builds on these things. Children are never too young to ask them what they want to be or do when they’re older. Agreed, it changes over the years (quite drastically sometimes) but regardless, it helps to drive them to set goals for themselves. And there’s your answer to the other things – peer pressure and risk-taking to experience something new: Personal goals (and what it takes to achieve them).
With a goal in mind, your teenager is less likely to do something just because their others are doing it. Additionally, risk-taking is always tempered when the risk-taker thinks about what they stand to lose if it goes wrong.
So, sit down with your teenager and discuss goals. Tell them what your goals are, and together, discuss what your teen’s goals are. Whatever it is, you can then be their driving force by encouraging them to achieve the goals they have set.
5. Don’t Keep Alcohol In the House
This is easier said than done, but if you are worried your teen may be at risk of binge drinking, remove all alcohol from the home. Sure, you may have a party or friends over where alcohol is consumed, but be sure you don’t get too inebriated as to not notice if some alcohol goes missing. Even though you may have guests, your first role is not to host, but to parent. It’s far more important to keep your teen safe from underage moderate or binge drinking.
For those who are susceptible to substance abuse and possibly addiction, know this: Temptation can never be resisted. If there’s alcohol in your house, and your teenager likes drinking, it’ll cross their mind soon enough as to how to get their hands on it- Maybe it will be just taking a bottle to a party without asking, or maybe it becomes something worse. Either way, if you’re serious about your teen avoiding binge drinking, don’t give them the gun to shoot themselves with. It’s as simple as that. And who knows? If they have easy access to your drinks cabinet, they may be tempted to see what’s in the medicine cabinet. The odd pill or pills are easier to hide than the odd bottle. Alcohol, strong prescription meds, and the teen party you know nothing apart could well be the perfect storm.
6. Know Your Child’s Friends
This should be an easy thing to do, but with teens’ schedules being busy and with the use of cellphones, it can be difficult to keep track of your child’s friends. Mingle with other parents and your teen’s friends at school functions. It will help put a face with a name, and gives you a chance to meet other parents. Together, you and other parents can work together to keep teens safe from underage binge drinking. Knowing your teen’s friends can also help you if your adolescent begins hanging around with new people. Changes in friends can indicate a drug or alcohol problem.
Imagine the following:
Teenage son: “Mom?! Dad?! Going over to Sam’s house now! Catch you guys later!”
Dad (to himself): “Who the **** is Sam?…”
Mom: “eff! [that’s the Dad, by the way] Do you know this Sam, honey?”
Teenage son: “Mom! I need to go now! Anyway, you know Sam. On my basketball team!”
Dad (to himself): “He’s playing basketball now?...”
Mom: “Jeff! We need to talk about this!”
Dad (to himself): “Maybe Sam is on the basketball team… Then again, maybe Sam sells weed at school. Maybe he’s the fix-it guy… Can get anything. Liquor, drugs… Even girls. Whoa, one moment here! Maybe Sam is a girl. Who loves getting drunk on a school night…”
It’s a potential minefield, isn’t it? However, it’s easily solved.
Getting to know who your teenager’s friends are is a pretty obvious thing for a parent to do; however, you’d be surprised how many parents simply don’t bother. Their son or daughter leaves the house in the morning, school bag in tow, and the parents have no idea if they even make it into school or not.
In reality, of course, nothing simple is as easy as it seems. Most teenagers lead very busy lives, and with the addition of social media via mobile and extracurricular activities, you may end up wishing you could consult a PA as to their whereabouts and associates. However, there’s a way to circumnavigate all this. Make it your mission to attend every school function, talk to both parents and your teenager’s friends there.
Other parents will be curious too. Together, you and other parents can work together to keep teens safe from the perils of the world, including (obviously) underage binge drinking. Remember, if your teen suddenly has a whole new peer group of friends, it can indicate a drug or alcohol problem.
7. Know the Legal Consequences of Your Teen Binge Drinking
According to Washington State law, “Persons under the age of 21 may not acquire, possess, or consume alcohol. Nor may other persons furnish alcohol to anyone under 21 or permit underage consumption on-premises within their control. Penalty: Maximum $500 fine, 2 months imprisonment, or both.² By breaking the law and underage drinking, teens run a huge risk to their reputation and can ruin chances at playing school sports and attending good colleges.
According to Washington State law:
“Persons under the age of 21 may not acquire, possess, or consume alcohol. Nor may other persons furnish alcohol to anyone under 21 or permit underage consumption on premises within their control. Penalty: Maximum $500 fine, 2 months imprisonment, or both.”
500 bucks. Maybe 2 months inside. Maybe both.
As a parent of a teenager, it’s imperative you know the legal consequences should your child be caught drinking, buying alcohol or acting drunk. It’s also imperative that your teen knows what the state law says.
By participating in underage binge drinking, your teenager will be breaking the law, and guilty of underage drinking. By doing so, teenagers (their whole social, academic, and professional lives laid out before them) run exceptionally high, foolhardy, and, ultimately, pointless risks. In the immediate future, it could mean the loss of liberty, and certainly the loss of reputation, and possibly an end to a promising academic future at a highly-rated college. Lastly, for the young teen, that criminal record sticks to a person through all of their life. You can’t shake it.
Ok, Mom and Dad? It’s important you know the following because you can also be held liable for a number of possible violations… Get ready for the legal ramifications of your teenager being caught binge drinking:
Providing Alcohol: Minor In Possession Laws
Parents, guardians, or others, eg. store-owners, who provide alcohol to minors in violation of their state’s Minor in Possession of Alcohol (MIP) laws face the distinct possibility of criminal charges. Most often, this is a misdemeanor, and generally carries the possibility of a fine and incarceration in a local jail for up to a year.
Parents’ Financial Liability: Property Damage or Personal Injuries
As you know, all U.S. states forbid the public possession and consumption of alcohol by those under 21 years old. In some states, parents who violate the law are automatically considered as “negligent parents.”
However, when the parents of a child had no idea that their son or daughter was going to drink alcohol that was in the house, they are usually not held accountable for the consequences, ie. property damage or personal injuries, if the case goes to civil court. However, those who knew or should have known that the child would drink alcohol given the opportunity may face a different outcome. For example, a parent who leaves liquor readily accessible to a teenager who has access to a car often finds it difficult to escape any financial claims against them.
8. Find Local Organizations That Encourage Safe Fun For Teens
There are plenty of activities your teen can do that doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs. If your family is involved in church, see if they have a youth group. If hiking and the outdoors are of a bigger interest to you and your teen, try to find excursion groups that guide teens on outdoor activities. By getting teens involved with peer groups that encourage them to engage in healthy, age appropriate activities, they can enjoy themselves without being pressured into underage or binge drinking.
9. Be a Great Example for Your Adolescent
It seems easier said than done, but being a good example for your teen is one of the best, long-term tactics to prevent binge drinking and making other poor life choices. It’s easy to tell a teen what to do, but it’s much harder to convince them to do something that you are incapable of practicing yourself. Work hard to think through how your actions may affect your teen. It’s crucial that you don’t lose their respect or parenting will become much more difficult for you.
10. Spend Time Discussing Underage Drinking
Honesty should be practiced daily when it comes to dealing with your teen. Take the time to discuss underage drinking with your adolescents. Tell them what they need to be aware of and how to decline a drink when their friends want them to join in. This conversation can be done in a car ride, on a walk or at the dinner table. Don’t be afraid to broach the subject even when your teen doesn’t seem interested. To prevent consequences that can occur from binge drinking, it’s important to prevent binge drinking in the first place. Knowledge is power, so be sure to give teens the tools they need to say “no” to underage drinking.
If your teen still chooses to binge drink, you do have options. Like alcoholism and drug use, if you find that your child is acting different, hanging out with new friends and letting their school work suffer, it may be time to get help. Many alcohol treatment centers can offer therapies for teen addiction. The longer addiction is left to take hold of an adolescent, the more dangerous it becomes. The teen brain suffers much more chemical changes due to addiction than an adult brain, and drug or alcohol use can change the brain forever. Not sure where to start? Learn about our intervention services.
¹National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/
²University of Puget Sound. (2017). Washington State Laws on Alcohol Consumption. Retrieved from: https://www.pugetsound.edu/student-life/counseling-health-and-wellness/substance-abuse-prevention/washington-state-laws-on-alcoh/