As your adolescents develop and
grow, they face many new challenges.
They want to try new things and they want to fit in. Their friends may pressure them to do things
they may not feel so good about. Those
challenges can come with increased risks and negative outcomes for the
physical, emotional and psychological safety and well-being of
children. For example, there are some
significant connections between alcohol use and sexual decision making. When alcohol (or another drug) is added to a
sexual situation, sexual health risks can increase drastically. Because alcohol
affects judgment and lowers inhibitions, people sometimes do things when they
drink alcohol that they wouldn't do sober.
This can include having sex when they normally would not.
According to The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance,
adolescents are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as
unprotected sex, when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For example, twenty-two percent of high
school students who had sexual intercourse during the past three months drank
alcohol or used drugs before last sexual intercourse. Furthermore, according to a study done by the
Kaiser Family Foundation, seventeen percent of teens ages 13 to 18 who have had
an intimate encounter say they have done something sexual while under the
influence of drugs or alcohol that otherwise they might not have done.
Positive communication between
parents and youth helps establish family and individual values enabling young
people to make healthier, safer and better-informed decisions related to
sexuality. When thinking about
different aspects of sexual health, decision making, and alcohol use, parents
can help youth understand the choices involved as well as the possible consequences.
Many of the tips for talking to teens
about alcohol use are similar to the ones that parents can follow when talking
to teens about sexual behavior (i.e. seek "teachable moments" to share values,
do not wait until children ask questions, consider the "question behind the
question," keep in mind that you are talking to your children because you care
about their happiness and well-being, and remember to listen!)
Conversations can include
information about potential physical risks such as contracting a sexually
transmitted infection, including HIV, or getting pregnant. Obviously, the best
way to avoid these risks is to delay sexual activity. However, if people do choose to be sexually
active, a condom or barrier should be used every time to reduce physical risk. In
addition, something to point out to young people is that alcohol can impair a
person's ability to use protection correctly, thereby putting them at greater vulnerability.
Parents can help youth explore
the potential emotional consequences of having sex while under the influence of
alcohol. Adolescents (as well as adults)
may feel a sense of regret about violating their own sexual boundaries and values
and may experience feelings such as "that's not who I am" or "that's not who I
want to be." Whether parents are talking
to adolescents about physical or emotional risks, one key ingredient to
achieving intimacy and a healthy sexual identity is not to let alcohol impair sexual decision making.
Tips to Help Your Teen Avoid Underage Drinking
- Set clear rules, including rules about alcohol use, and enforce
them. According to a Partnership
for a Drug-Free America, kids are less likely to use alcohol if their
parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences
for breaking those rules.
- Encourage your teen's growing independence, but set appropriate
- Support your teen, be involved in his or her life but also give room to
grow and become independent.
- Make it easy for your teen to share information about her or his life.
- Get your teen involved in family life, such as doing chores or caring
for a younger sibling or cousin.
- If you know of a parent, convenience store, bar or restaurant that
provides alcohol to those under 21, either address the problem or make an
anonymous tip to law enforcement about the activity.
- Every family sets values, whether supporting appropriate behaviors of
how to speak to parents or developing a stand on drug use. Discuss
underage drinking and the consequences at home if your teen disobeys this
- In many families, the family car is a coveted reward for a teen.
Losing driving privileges can be a meaningful discipline.
- Make sure alcohol isn't available at teen parties in your own home.
- Help your teen brainstorm ways to use assertive communication to say
no to alcohol.
- Tell your teen to avoid dangerous situations such as riding in a car
driven by someone who has been drinking.
Agree ahead to an arranged plan so that he/she can call you for a
ride home if a party gets uncomfortable or if a friend was
supposed to be a designated driver and ends up drinking.
- Show your support of law enforcement as they enforce underage drinking
- Work within your community to prevent underage drinking.
- Help your teen get professional help if you're worried about her/his involvement