Parent Buzz Newsletter - Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
The Parent Buzz
An e-newsletter for parents from Let's be Honest                                       August 2010   Issue 22

In This Issue
Talk to your Adolescent about Alcohol and Sexual Decision Making
Some Helpful Resources
Quick Links
Talk to your Adolescent
about Alcohol and
Sexual Decision Making

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.  Image of Mother and Daugher on LawnThose 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 limits.
  • 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 rule.
  • 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 laws. 
  • Work within your community to prevent underage drinking.
  • Help your teen get professional help if you're worried about her/his involvement with alcohol.

Some Helpful Resources

The Bacchus Network

Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Substance Abuse Services

Massachusetts Health Promotion Clearinghouse (for free copies of brochures on how to talk to your children about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, 1-800-952-6637)

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Partnership for a Drug-Free America

Why 21?

Reference:  Kaiser Family Foundation, YM Magazine. National Survey of Teens: Teens Talk about Dating, Intimacy, and Their Sexual Experiences. Menlo Park, CA: The Foundation.

Visit our website for helpful tips, information about workshops, and much more.
Don't miss an opportunity to be the primary sexuality educator for your children.
Need help? Call our Parent Education Team at (617) 616-1658.


Parent Education
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts 

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