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When Should I Start Talking to My Child About the Dangers of Drugs and Alcohol?

When is the right time to talk to my children about drugs and alcohol? This question has plagued parents of teenagers for what seems like an eternity. It might often feel as if every word spoken to a teenager falls on deaf ears. It is understandable that speaking candidly with your teen about a subject that is so important can seem like a daunting task. However, it is a conversation that can never come too soon. The most challenging aspect of having this discussion is often deciding what information is both necessary and age appropriate.

When a child is younger, for the most part, it’s fine to give a basic explanation of alcohol as a type of drink that is only for adults and a brief rundown of the dangers of smoking and leave it at that. When you are looking at an adolescent that might be facing peer pressure to use these substances, the conversation changes. The scary fact is that approximately 16% of the US ages 12+ has a substance abuse problem, with alcohol accounting for around 7%. Furthermore, about 8% of high school students that participated in a behavioral survey admitted to driving after consuming alcohol. Statistics also tell us that 90% of addicts began smoking, drinking, or abusing drugs before they were 18 years old.

Statistics may not always drive the point home with young people, so the trick is giving them the information in a way that they will connect to it. For instance, it may help to make them aware of the potential personal consequences of drinking and driving. Among them is getting caught, arrested, and getting a DUI. DUIs are a costly offense, with the Bureau of Transportation estimating that alcohol-related crashes cost American taxpayers $37 billion per year. Most teenagers would be interested in information about DUIs if they knew that DUIs could directly and permanently affect their ability to have a driver’s license, and that they could even lead to the loss of personal freedom due to incarceration. Scarier still is the significant potential for serious injuries or worse.

According to the CDC, approximately 295,000 teens were injured or killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2011. Furthermore, according to recent surveys, despite the fact that underage drivers only account for about 10% of drivers in the US, they are responsible for 17% of alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities. According to a study in Boulder, Colorado, by Moorhead Law Group, adolescent and young adult drivers between the ages of 19-24 also account for an alarmingly large portion of DUI related arrests, with alcohol being the most common offender. While just over 10 million drivers 16 or older drove after using drugs, nearly 28 million drove after consuming alcohol.

However, loss of liberty, financial detriment, and revoked driving privileges is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is also a definite correlation between underage drinking and pregnancies occurring in young women between the ages of 14-21. Though the rate of teenage births has declined in recent years, they still happen. For example, in 2013, approximately 273,000 babies were born to young mothers (ages 15-19). Furthermore, the chances of a young parent finishing high school by age 22 are unfortunately slim. College? Even less likely.

You may still be asking yourself, “But what is the best way to make my child care about this information?” The answer: honesty and involvement. Talking with your child about the dangers of alcohol needs to be a more than a one-sided conversation that you have with your teen. What they need is dialogue. You can’t merely lay facts and statistics in their lap, and then hope that they absorb it and make the conscious decision to be safe and responsible. They need to understand the reality that alcohol is for responsible adults—adults that drink safely by not drinking and driving or binge drinking. The reason that you must be 21 to buy alcohol is that most young people do not have the life experience that it takes to make those judgment calls. Then, let your teen ask questions, and realize that your answers are paramount to the decisions they will make.

Teens are less likely to become addicted to dangerous behaviors when they are engaged in extracurricular activities - especially activities that challenge them physically. The martial arts and its ranking system are ideal for immunizing kids against the emotional risk factors that lead do dangerous or deviant behaviors. We consider ourselves to be a part of parents' team in helping their teens to develop character, independence, and self-control. But most importantly, be involved. The most important thing that you can give your child to prevent them drinking is your time.

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