Use Science to Talk to Your Teens about Drinking

If you’re a parent, you should assume that your child will be tempted to drink on prom night and other celebrations that mark the end of the school year. In a 2005 survey of high school students, about 43 percent had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, and 75 percent had tried alcohol at least once. Even more concerning, about one in three students had been a passenger in a car driven by someone who had been drinking.

But instead of just sharing these statistics with your kids and telling them not to drink, use science to reinforce the message. The American Association for the Advancement of Science offers a Science Inside Alcohol Project, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism, which suggests educating kids about the science of alcohol to explain how it affects adult and adolescent brains differently.

Here are five things the AAAS says you should tell your kids:

1.) If you want to remember prom or your graduation party, don’t drink. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that stores memory; because it is still developing in teens, even small amounts of alcohol can wipe away their memories of the night.

2.) Drinking changes your judgment. Alcohol makes people less inhibited, which can lead to risky behaviors like driving under the influence and becoming involved in sexual situations. Tell teens that their prefrontal cortex, which controls decision making, isn’t mature until their late 20s, so they are especially vulnerable to the effects of alcohol on their judgment.

3.) Alcohol increases risk for violence. Studies show that teens who drink are more prone to fighting and violence; in fact, a London study found that about one in four teens who drink say they damaged or destroyed something while drinking. Tell teens that if they get into a fight at prom or a party, they might be suspended from school or miss the graduation ceremony.

4.) Drinking can make you sick. Alcohol irritates the stomach and increases the risk for throwing up on and ruining that expensive dress or tuxedo.

5.) Hangovers force you to cancel plans. If you drink too much on prom night or at a graduation party, you’ll likely spend the next day miserable and in bed, which could make you miss other fun events.

When it’s time to have the alcohol talk, teens will be more prone to listen and take the conversation to heart if you give them better reasons than “just don’t do it.”

Source: The New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope, Using Science to Keep Teens Sober at Prom, May 2, 2009

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