Sue Scheff: Middle School Drinking

“We’ve approached parenting as a life-long process and this is just part of it. We’re just starting him, training him, helping him get set for the rest of his life - to make his own decisions.”
– Jon Schlanger, Jake’s father

“I’ve heard in other schools that people have been sneaking drugs into their lockers,” Jake says. He’s only ten years old, and he already knows kids who use drugs.

Experts say that today, children younger than ever are exposed to themes once reserved for adults: sex, violence, profanity - as well as drugs and alcohol.

“I think they’re pushed,” explains educator Kay Scott. “You know, pushed by music, pushed by movies, and pushed in some ways by the media.”

Experts add that parents aren’t teaching their elementary school-age kids about the dangers of alcohol.
As Dr. Michael Fishman, an addiction medicine specialist, explains, “Many of the parents are not getting involved as much with kids around education, around negative experiences they’ve had with drugs and alcohol.”

And that’s why Jake’s parents began that conversation two years ago. His father is a recovering alcoholic.
“That was a part of our life and it is a part of our life, so it was appropriate for this family to have that conversation at the time,” says Jon Schlanger, Jake’s dad.

One specific worry for them is that Jake inherited his dad’s genes.

“If one of the parents has the disease of alcoholism, I think at a minimum it’s 25% more likely [that the child will inherit the disease],” explains Dr. Fishman.

Another concern is his age. “The younger they start drinking, the higher risk they’re going to have for alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence,” he continues.

Which is why, Dr. Fishman says every family needs to start the conversation early: “I think the young people are much more aware and ready than many parents may believe.”

Jake’s dad knows he was ready for it, too. “In one respect it forces me to be honest about it; in another aspect, and this was very important to me, is for him to see that when I had a problem that I would try to face it and work through it.”

Tips for Parents

Alcohol-related fatalities are a leading cause of death among young adults in the United States. In the United States, 70.8 percent of all deaths among persons aged 10 to 24 result from only four causes – motor-vehicle crashes, other unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide.

Should your family doctor take just a few moments to counsel your child about the risks of alcohol, there is great potential for positive outcome. Just a few minutes of a doctor's counseling helped young adults reduce their high-risk drinking and the number of traffic crashes, emergency room visits, and arrests for substance or liquor violations, says a study in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Consider the following:

Underage drinking causes over $53 billion in criminal, social and health problems.

Alcohol is a leading factor in the three leading causes of death for 15 to 24-year-olds: automobile crashes, homicide and suicide.

Primary-care doctors should make it a priority to counsel young adults about high-risk drinking.

Young adults, ages 18 to 30, who received counseling about reducing their use of alcohol:

Experienced a 40 to 50 percent decrease in alcohol use.
Reported 42 percent fewer visits to the emergency room.
Were involved in 55 percent fewer motor vehicle crashes.

The ways a parent can influence his or her teen’s drinking habits is complex. A universal method regarding what works best in preventing underage drinking may not exist.

A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that a parent’s attitude toward drinking influences a child's behavior in various ways. Researchers found that teens who drank with their parents were less likely than others to have binged or used alcohol at all in recent weeks.

The study also found that strict parenting can curb kids' drinking.

Teens who said they feared they would have their privileges taken away if they got caught drinking were half as likely to drink as those who thought their parents would not punish them.

In addition, consider the following:

The average girl takes her first sip of alcohol at age 13. The average boy takes his first sip of alcohol at age 11.
Teenagers who said their parents or their friends' parents had provided alcohol for a party over the past year were twice as likely as their peers to have used alcohol or binged during the previous month.

Nearly 75 percent of teens surveyed said they had never used alcohol.

About 25 percent of teens in the study said they'd been at party in the past year where parents supplied alcohol.

Fourteen percent of teens surveyed said they were with their parents the last time they drank.


The Centers for Disease Control
Focus Adolescent Services
National Youth Violence Prevention Center
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Surgeon General

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