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College Crash Course: Talking to Your Young Adult about Alcohol and Drug Safety

Parents from across the country send their graduating seniors off to college with pride, paired with prayers for good grades and smart choices. With newfound freedom away from home, the temptation to drink alcohol and experiment with drugs can quickly impact student safety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the use of alcohol by minors is a major public health concern in the United States. Most of the underage alcohol consumption is related to binge-drinking and results in thousands of emergency room visits each year. Even when young adults are legally allowed to drink, it’s important that they have the right information and tools for making responsible choices.

Be proactive in talking with your teenager about the dangers of alcohol consumption and drug use by taking a concrete approach with information, education, and a strong dose of reality.

Don’t shelter them from everything.

Brandi Sharum is an Arkansas mother of five with children in elementary school through college. She stresses the importance of teaching children responsibility for their actions from a young age, so the college experience (and lures that go along with it) won’t be a complete shock. She encourages parents to let children know about their own struggles and failures with alcohol, and not to shield them from the reality of what can happen when someone drinks too much.

“I don’t believe teenagers can make informed decisions solely based on what mom or dad advise. They have to be exposed to the evidence for themselves—with supervision. This might mean some reality TV, or it might mean being open with them about your own flaws in this area— i.e. letting them know about mistakes you made when you were their age.”

Pam Meyer, mother of two teenagers, agrees that sheltering children from the real world isn’t the best approach. “I want to show them the extremes of drinking; to try and impress upon them how people act when they are under the influence, and the damage alcohol and drugs can do.” The local jail where Pam lives allows parents to bring children on weekends to experience the arrest process and speak to nonviolent offenders with alcohol violations. The experience is used to show young people the ramifications of bad decisions, and the hard place you land because of poor choices.

Teach them responsible steps.

Judy Miller, mother of four, adoption expert, and author of What to Expect From Your Adopted Tween, points out that children need tools to stay safe when being pressured by peers. She encourages her own children to be the leader in these situations by saying no right away and leaving the situation. Miller also gives her children advice for when they are old enough to drink.

“If you’re of age, drink responsibly and stay put. Don’t be tempted to get into a car with someone who has been drinking—keep numbers in your cell phone of trusted adults if you should need a ride home.”

Terry Walters, an Illinois pastor with two adult children, encourages young people to surround themselves with good friends—the kind of friends who will be a supportive group when temptation occurs. “Everybody gets tempted—especially if they go it alone.”

Emphasize safety.

Katrina Simeck, a Vermont mom of two teenagers and writer of parenting articles, advises parents to help keep their children focused on avoiding dangerous situations and to educate them on the consequences of drinking. “I firmly believe that parents have to emphasize safety – never riding with someone who has been drinking, and discussing the risks of alcohol poisoning.”

Miller agrees. “I tell my own teenagers that when they are drinking, they are not in control, the alcohol is. It affects their judgment and decisions.”

Lay down the law.

Sometimes, a little scare tactic goes a long way. Jacoba Urist, a lawyer and Huffington Post contributor who specializes in parenting issues, points out that regardless of whether or not campuses enforce the law or look the other way, underage drinking is illegal. “It’s simply against the law,” Urist says. “Every year, all over the country, young people get in trouble for consuming alcohol.”

And just in case parents are thinking about hosting a shindig (with the mentality that children can get it out of their system under the parents’ roof), they should think again! Urist emphasizes that parents can be held criminally responsible if underage drinking occurs in their home—even if they know nothing about it.

Quick Tools for Teens in Sticky Situations
  • Don’t attend parties or other group events if you are not familiar with those attending.
  • Keep $20 in your pocket and a cab company number in your cell phone to avoid riding with someone who has been drinking.
  • Keep an eye on your own drink—alcohol or not.
  • Call mom or dad—before the trouble gets worse.