Help teens make smart decisions this time of year.
Some people think that underage drinking is a rite of passage with little downside.
Some adults will host parties where alcohol is provided because they think they can better protect teens in supervised situations. However, these beliefs and misperceptions are not supported by research. Underage drinking is illegal and risky. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that heavy alcohol consumption harms brain development in teens. The region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until about age 25, and any alcohol-related damage incurred at a young age can have long-term effects.
Alcohol is a powerful, mood-altering drug that contributes to lack of judgment and poor coping skills. Research has shown that youths who use alcohol before age 15 are five times more likely to become alcohol dependent than adults who begin drinking at age 21. Underage drinking can lead to destructive behaviors such as physical and emotional violence, sexual mistakes or misjudgments, accidental injuries and deaths, alcohol overdose and increased risk of suicide.
Parents play an important role in helping teens make smart decisions when it comes to alcohol. According to a recent report from the Century Council, 83 percent of youths report parents are the leading influence in their decision to not to drink alcohol. Research also shows regular communication between parents and teens has a positive influence on the decisions teens make. Teens are more likely to live up to the parent’s expectations and less likely to drink or use drugs when open and regular communication is occurring.
That’s why Grand Futures of Routt County is encouraging parents to visit www.speaknowcolorado.org. The comprehensive resource provides information ranging from how to bring up the issue of teen drinking, to prom-related texts parents can send to their teens and legal consequences of underage alcohol use.
Siblings play an equally important role: Research shows that children who have older brothers or sisters who drink are more likely to use alcohol. Remind your older child that he or she serves as a role model for the younger brother or sister and that your rules and expectations about drinking apply to all underage family members. If the older sibling is of legal drinking age, ask him or her to always drink in moderation and to never encourage drinking or offer underage siblings alcohol.
Lastly, Grand Futures reminds adults that supplying alcohol at teen parties is not only a bad idea but also illegal. Under Colorado law, any adult who knowingly helps a person younger than 18 break the law, also known as contributing to the delinquency of a minor, can face a Class 4 felony charge. This includes adults who provide alcohol to a minor who is not their child. A Class 4 felony conviction carries serious penalties including fines ranging from $2,000 to $500,000 and possible jail time. Under the Steamboat Springs Social Host Ordinance, adults also can be held liable for knowingly providing a place for underage drinking to occur, which can lead to additional penalties.
From proms to graduations to spring breaks, teens have plenty of reasons to celebrate this time of year. And no matter what the reason for celebrating, help keep the occasion safe for everyone by making sure alcohol isn’t part of your teen’s party plans.
Grand Futures of Routt County advisory board chairman