As a parent, it can be difficult to relinquish control as your child transitions into adolescence. Kids need to carve their own way, experiment, and even break the rules every once in a while. Unfortunately, this often leads to underage drinking.
Before you start to panic, recognize that underage drinking isn’t uncommon. In fact, nearly 60% of children will have at least one drink before they reach the age of 18. To be honest, there's not a whole lot you can do to stop it.
However, there’s a difference between trying alcohol and drinking regularly, partying, and binge drinking. To prevent your child from going down a scary road that could negatively affect them for the rest of their life, it’s important to understand why children turn to underage drinking.
Keep reading for the top five reasons adolescents start drinking and what you can do about it.
1. Peer Pressure
Being a kid in high school isn’t easy and it only gets harder as society progresses. Things like bullying and peer pressure follow children home through social media and smartphones. Did you know nearly 84% of teenagers have their own phones?
This puts more pressure on teens to fit in. Because of their privacy and liberties granted through phones and technology, they can receive invitations to parties at any time of any day. If they have several friends messaging them to come out, it’s harder to say no to their friends than sneak out of the house or lie about where they’re going.
Teenagers can be incredibly mean to one another. They bully each other physically and psychologically. Sometimes, it’s easier to try to fit in than go against the grain and suffer the consequences.
It may help to explain to your child that high school is a fleeting stage of their life. It’s important to them now, as is their social standing, but most people rarely talk to their old classmates after they graduate. Additionally, making poor decisions to fit in with other kids can negatively impact their futures.
Many times, people make mistakes because they simply don’t have all the information. If you’re asking “Why do teenagers drink?” it could be because they don’t know any better.
Obviously, they know you don’t want them to partake in underage drinking, but they may not know why. For example, when you tell a young child not to touch a hot stove, they don’t have the experience or wherewithal to understand your reasoning. Naturally, their curiosity gets the best of them and they touch the hot stove, burning themselves.
Your teenage student may not understand the real-life consequences of underage drinking. You should talk to them about what can happen, from alcohol poisoning to DUIs and long-term illnesses.
There can be other, more traumatic consequences, as well. For example, one in six American women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape. If they’re in a state of altered consciousness, they are much more vulnerable to sexual assault.
When we were children, we were quite certain our parents didn’t know anything. This notion eventually faded as we aged and became parents ourselves. However, you can bet your teenager currently thinks they know more than you.
As a result, you’ll often be met with defiance. Sometimes it comes in the form of slammed doors or screaming matches. Other times, it results in underage drinking.
Much of your teen’s adopted attitude and behavior comes from their friends. Who they hang out with in high school can shape a teenager’s personality.
If your child is constantly defiant, angry, or rebellious, it may be a good idea to try to understand why. Accept that they may or may not be receptive. The harder you push, the more they may withdraw.
Learn how to cope with an angry teen and never allow your emotions to get the better of you. Remember, you are the adult in this situation.
4. Emotional and/or Psychological Issues
As mentioned previously, learning how to stop underage drinking comes down to understanding why it’s happening. Some teens, use drinking as a form of escapism. They may be emotionally struggling to get through their daily lives.
If you’ve never suffered from anxiety or depression, it can be difficult to sympathize with people who are. However, if you don’t validate your child’s feelings, you can push them towards self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
Teenagers are in the stage of their lives in which we go through the most changes. These changes spike our hormone levels which can lead to mood swings, anger, and emotional issues like depression.
You can prevent teenager drinking by talking to your teen about what they’re going through and providing mental health treatment options. Many young people turn to alcohol or drugs because they feel misunderstood, primarily by their parents.
5. Too Much or Too Little Parental Guidance
Parenting a teenager is difficult. Too much guidance can lead to rebellion. Too little guidance can lead to a lack of responsibility and accountability.
Unfortunately, both scenarios can lead to underage drinking. As a parent, you need to tread the razor-thin line of being present and authoritative, but not overbearing.
We recommend encouraging open and honest communication with your teen. However, this means you have to stifle your reaction to things you may not agree with. If you punish them for being honest with you, they’ll start hiding things and lying.
Obviously, there must be consequences for bad or unacceptable behavior, but you must also reward honesty, no matter what is uncovered. Prove to your teen that you are approachable, understanding, and fair. They should know to call you if they need you, even if it’s because they’re drunk at a party.
Do You Suspect Your Child of Underage Drinking?
If you think your child is partaking in underage drinking, you have an uphill battle ahead of you. You must talk to them about their actions and the possible outcomes of their behavior. However, you must be careful not to overreact and create a wedge in your relationship.
Yes, it’s a fine line, but it’s an important one to walk. And if you fear your child has already become a teenage alcoholic, we can help. Check out our drug and alcohol detox program or our addiction treatment for young adults.
Good luck, we wish you and your family the best.