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Teen Brain Development and Underage Drinking

underage drinking, teens, alcohol

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

As parents you are aware that your teen is experiencing many changes with their body and social experiences, such as:

•new freedoms, including driving

•more social interactions with peers

•increased need for novel/sensation experiences and thrill-seeking

All of these factors increase the likelihood for high-risk behaviors and experiences – including alcohol use and the potential for driving after using drugs or alcohol or riding in a vehicle with a driver who has used alcohol or other drugs. The personality characteristics consistent with young adults such as, impulsiveness and sensation seeking, contribute to the likelihood that underage drinking (and sometimes abuse) patterns will develop.

While the majority of young people in North Dakota don't drink, just over 60% have tried alcohol and about 30% have drank within the last 30 days. These are important numbers to keep in mind when research is also continuously proving that drinking younger is more dangerous than once thought. Young people who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become addicted to alcohol than those who wait until they’re 21, and because the brain isn’t fully developed until age 25, drinking underage can cause severe changes in the parts of the brain that affect impulse control, judgment, learning, and memory. This damage from alcohol doesn’t only have an immediate impact; it can be long-term and irreversible, potentially impacting a person’s ability to function successfully in school or the workplace down the line.

Keys to prevention at this age: Modeling healthy behaviors, encouraging participation in healthy activities with positive peers, monitoring your teen’s activities, providing strong emotional support, and emphasis on family values, expectations, and consequences.

Teenagers will often resist your efforts to discuss the topic of alcohol with them; however, research indicates that teenagers list their parents as their most trusted resource when they are faced with difficult decisions. Here are some things to keep in mind as you have the conversation:

  • Convey that you care about and love your child
  • Express that you want to understand and help your child
  • Be willing to back off if your child resists and try another time. Your willingness to back off shows that you are respectful of your child and their privacy.

Your teen will react to discussing alcohol in various ways; here are some possible reactions:

  • Suspicion about your sudden interest in the topic
  • Doubts that you will understand/respect them
  • Fear of hearing a lecture
  • Indifference or lack of concern
  • Anger for invasion of their privacy

Have conversations about the dangers of underage drinking and the possible social, family, and legal consequences that could result. These conversations coupled with simple things like monitoring your teen’s whereabouts, knowing his friends, giving him a curfew, and staying up to talk to him when he gets home can be great ways to prevent your teen from underage drinking.

A conversation with your teen about alcohol may be difficult – but the more you talk with them, the easier it will become.

Source: www.parentslead.org

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