As kids begin a new school year, they often make new friends, so it’s important to check in with your kids and make sure their social environment remains alcohol-free. It’s especially relevant when switching to different schools and in-between junior high and high school.

As your child makes new friends, be sure to get to know both the friends and their parents. It’s okay to have a conversation with other parents to ensure that if there’s alcohol in their home, it’s not accessible, particularly when children are unsupervised. It can be difficult to tell the difference between alcohol and non-alcohol packaging nowadays! Also, make sure any alcohol in your home is out of reach when your children are unattended.

A healthy brain is crucial for kids to learn and succeed in school. Research shows that alcohol affects a child’s brain differently than an adult’s. A child’s brain is going through rapid and dramatic changes through their mid-20’s and alcohol can impair a child’s brain development. Underage alcohol use can harm areas of the brain associated with memory, learning, and good judgment.

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. That’s why parents are in the best position to protect their child’s brain and keep it healthy. A healthy brain is crucial to a child’s success in life. This is why we encourage parents to have a back-to-school conversation with their kids about the harms of underage drinking to their developing brains.

Utah kids have self-reported that the #1 influence in their life is their parents and the main reason they choose not to drink is parental disapproval. We know that parents trump peer pressure, but we also know it’s best to keep kids in an alcohol-free social environment. There are three things parents can do to help their kids stay alcohol-free: bonding, boundaries, and monitoring.

Bonding is consistently spending time together having fun. Spend 10-15 minutes with your child, doing what your child enjoys. Research indicates children are less likely to drink when their parents are involved in their lives and when they feel close to their parents. Yet, parental involvement often drops by half between the sixth and twelfth grades, right when kids need it most. Stay involved! Eat meals together. Kids who regularly eat meals with their families (at least five times per week) are 33% less likely to use alcohol.

Boundaries mean setting clear rules about not drinking underage. Unclear rules and permissive attitudes leave kids vulnerable to underage drinking. Back to school is a great time to start a conversation with your kids about your family expectations and rules that they will not drink before age 21. Have an ongoing conversation with your child, before they’re faced with the decision to drink underage. It’s not a “one-and-done” conversation. Talk with your child about the risks associated with underage drinking and the harms to their developing brain. Encourage your child to call or text you to pick them up if they’re at a party where alcohol is present.

Monitoring your kids means you’re aware of their comings and goings and you know their day-to-day world. Kids want to have boundaries and monitoring as it helps them know that they’re safe and you care about them. All kids need help to stay alcohol-free. Ask the 5 Ws: who will they be with, where are they going, what are they doing, when will they be home, and will alcohol be present. Remember to always check in with your kids if they’re unsupervised and know your child’s friends and their parents.

To learn more about Parents Empowered and what can be done to help prevent your child from experimenting with alcohol visit their website.

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