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In the Good Old Underage Drinking Summertime

07/16/2013

Parents often ask when is the best time to begin talking about alcohol use with their children. One very good answer to that question is right now, during the summer vacation, when more teens start using alcohol than most other months of the year. As reported in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) NSDUH Report, Monthly Variation in Substance Use Initiation among Adolescents, more than 11,000 youth a day used alcohol for the first time during June and July (December rates were comparable). By comparison, an average of between 5,000 and 8,000 youth a day first try alcohol during the rest of the year.

Why the increased risk during summertime? One possible explanation is unsupervised time. In Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, the National Research Council concluded that “As adolescents get older, they spend more and more time alone or with other peers in unsupervised settings, and both age-segregation and lack of adult supervision have been related to higher levels of substance abuse and deviance, including greater alcohol consumption.” Dr. George Askew of the Administration on Children and Families, in a June interview on HHS HealthBeat, cautioned adults about the risk for teen drinking during summer. He advised adults to talk with young teens about alcohol and to “Make sure that they [young teens] know that you’re there to answer their questions and that there’s no question that’s inappropriate.”

Alcohol initiation during the long summer break is not the only concern for adults. Not so coincidentally, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that during May, June, July, and August, nearly twice as many teens die in highway crashes every day when compared to the rest of the year. The good news is that alcohol-impaired driving among teens has declined, but their risk of dying in an alcohol-related crash remains much greater than for the overall population. Youthful drinking also contributes to injuries and deaths during other popular summertime activities, such as boating and swimming. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that alcohol use is a factor in up to 70 percent of adult and adolescent deaths associated with water recreation, almost a quarter of emergency department visits for drowning, and about one in five reported boating deaths.

To keep summer healthy and safe for youth, promote “Talk. They Hear You.” to parents in your community. “Talk. They Hear You.” is SAMHSA’s new nationwide underage drinking prevention media campaign that encourages parents of 9- to 15-year-olds to start talking to their children early—as early as 9 years old—about the dangers of alcohol. The campaign offers many easy-to-use materials for parents, such as Small Conversations Can Make a Big Impression and Answering Your Child’s Tough Questions About Alcohol.

Community-based organizations also may want to introduce older tools to new users. For example, the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s former National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign assembled these prevention tips for S-U-M-M-E-R:

Set Rules: Clear rules are needed about activities and friends. Involve your teen in setting limits and consequences.

Understand and Communicate: Keep lines of communication open. Significant parent involvement is the most important factor in preventing drug use. Other adults can also provide support and encouragement.

Monitor Activities: Know each day what your teen has planned, where they will be, with whom, and what their schedule is. Have planned “check-ins.” Cell phones make this easy. Unmonitored teens are four times more likely to engage in drug use or other risky behaviors.

Make sure you stay involved: Know who their friends are and have a relationship with them. Talk to other parents, coaches and adults involved in your teen’s life. Without being intrusive, stay connected to let your teen know you care.

Encourage involvement in summer activities: Teens who are involved in Scouts, 4-H, sports, church or other youth activities have a focus for the summer. Other ideas: a job, camp or volunteer activity.

Reserve time for family: Even though teens may seem like they don’t want to spend time with their family, it is beneficial to have meals together, take a vacation and do other family activities. In a survey, when asked “What makes you happy?” the most frequent answer was spending time with family.