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Tackling hard talks with kids helps prevent underage drinking

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4Utah) – Parents Empowered is the state’s underage drinking prevention initiative. They are committed to providing parents the tools and resources to help eliminate underage alcohol use in Utah so that kids can have healthy brains and reach their full potential.

Alcohol affects a young brain differently than an adults. The brain goes through rapid changes from the ages of 12 through the early 20s. Underage alcohol use can harm areas of the brain associated with memory, learning and good judgment. Heidi Peterson from Parents Empowered says that The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends these conversations about drinking need to start as early as age nine.

In fact, the areas of the brain that encourage impulsivity and risk-taking develop early in youth. But areas that improve self-control and help to stop impulsive behavior don’t develop until the very late teens or early 20s, which disposes kids to risky behavior.

In Utah it is known that drinking now begins as early as elementary school and parents are often unaware of their child’s alcohol use. In fact, in a national survey, 31 percent of kids who said they had been drunk in the past year had parents who believed their children were nondrinkers. That’s why kids need parental help to stay alcohol-free and maintain a healthy brain. (American Medical Association Fact Sheet, 2003)

Spring Break is right around the corner for students and whether kids will be home or travelling with friends, it’s important to make sure vacation doesn’t include alcohol. That’s why DABC and Parents Empowered is- encouraging parents to have a conversation with kids, before the break, about the harms of alcohol to the developing brain. Make rules clear about not drinking before age 21, because not saying something is saying something.

And while many might think kids are more influenced by their peers, research shows the #1 reason kids choose not to drink is because of parental disapproval.

Studies show that if a child thinks their parents would view their drinking underage as very wrong, there’s a very small chance they will drink-only about 4%. But if a child perceives a parent would only view it as wrong or a little wrong, the likelihood dramatically increases-from 4% to 25 and 46%, respectively. That’s why parents’ clear rules against underage alcohol use are so powerful. (Utah Student Health and Risk Prevention Study, 2017)

Once clear rules are set against underage drinking, be sure to monitor activities by asking the 5 W’s: Where are you going; What will you be doing; Who will you be with; When will you be home; and Will there be alcohol present?

Then ensure that kids have planned activities and appropriate adult supervision. If you can help provide safe, enjoyable, “no-alcohol” activities for kids and their friends during Spring Break, it will go a long way to ensuring their social environment remains alcohol-free.

ParentsEmpowered.org has tips and resources parents can use to start these conversations and help prevent underage drinking. You can also visit ChitChatGame.com for some great conversation starters for kids and parents.

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