Sadly, most traffic deaths happen during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and the New Year, usually between 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Many of these involve 15- to 20-year-olds and are alcohol-related. In fact, out of all individuals involved in drunk-driving accidents, this teen group has the highest blood alcohol levels. With the holidays fast approaching and tragic traffic stories already in the news, it is a perfect time for parents to remind their children and teens about the dangers of alcohol use.
Don't forget that the No. 1 reason for teens not to drink is because it's illegal! Unfortunately, the highest amounts of heavy and binge drinking occur in adolescents. Studies have found that alcohol use in the teenage years has many negative effects, including:
This time of year teens are socializing with friends and out on the road at night more than usual, especially as college students are home for break and want to see their friends. High school students also have some time off, which they use to go to the mall, the movies, or to just hang out. Parents should lay down some ground rules when teens are driving to ensure their safety. Although parents hope their teens will not drink when they are underage, it is critically important for them to make it clear that driving while under the influence of alcohol is absolutely the wrong choice to make.
It's natural for teenagers to want to experiment; they feel the need to try new and adult things. However, many of the beliefs that teenagers have about alcohol and alcohol use are not true. Talk with your teen about these common myths, adapted from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), so that he or she knows the real truth about alcohol:
It appears that it is best to focus on the positive outcomes of not drinking alcohol. For example, staying away from alcohol lets adolescents and young adults:
Parents should help their teens practice how to say no, how to avoid being pressured into taking a drink, and how to choose a soda over a beer.
There are "Contracts for Life" to help parents deal with this issue at home. This document is a contract that parents and teens discuss and sign; in it the teenager pledges to call a parent for a ride home if he has consumed any alcohol, and the parent agrees to pick up the teen whenever he calls for a ride, but to save any questions or comments for later.
Parents, along with schools and communities, can play significant roles in keeping our children safe from the negative consequences of underage drinking as well as drinking and driving. There are steps we can take to keep teenagers safe, like allowing them to invite friends over to the home for fun without drinking during the holidays and creating formal programs to keep teens safely busy between midnight and 6 a.m. on popular occasions such as proms and graduations.
Henry H. Bernstein, D.O. is a senior lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston.