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New Year, new attitudes about underage drinking

by Karen Goyne RN, Behavioral Health Nurse
Southwestern District Health Unit

The New Year is ringing in. This is the time when people make New Year’s resolutions. Some resolutions take a lot of effort. Some resolutions include:  getting more organized, dieting, eating healthier, and/or exercising more to name a few. These are usually directed toward self-improvement.  BUT, what if we could make some changes that would positively impact our youth and their future?  

As parents, we are usually trying to parent differently than we were parented. Every parent wants their child/children to have it better than they had it. Along with this comes a change in attitude regarding parenting. Previously parents may have believed in spanking and/or believed the father was the breadwinner and the mother was responsible for creating the family environment. Today fathers are more involved, sharing the responsibilities of parenting and making decisions regarding consequences for behaviors.

One thing that is common to parents of all generations is that parents are the greatest influence in their child’s life. Kids watch more of what you do than what you say. Kids of all generations have had many challenges while growing up. They are exposed to peer pressure, bullying (although it may not have been called that), bullying via social media, exposure to tobacco and tobacco products including vapes, exposure to alcohol and other drugs and being faced with decisions regarding a career, whether or not to go to college or a trade school and being faced with school loan debt.  

To be able to change our attitudes regarding youth and alcohol, we as parents must be well informed.  We must be able to look past the attitude – “I drank as a teenager and look – I turned out OK”.  We must think about how things are different today. Kids are not just ‘tasting’ alcohol, but drinking more potent alcohol and drinking more of it. There are more flavors in any type of alcohol so it can be more ‘attractive’ to youth.

Most people believe that tobacco and/or alcohol are a gateway to other drugs. Others have an attitude “at least it’s not other drugs, it’s JUST tobacco or it’s JUST alcohol. Alcohol has been around for a long time and yet we are still learning about its impact.

We now know there is more of an impact on brain development in youth. Brain development continues through the teen years and into early to mid twenties. We know that the younger an individual starts drinking alcohol, the higher their risk for addiction and other consequences related to their substance use. Alcohol can negatively affect sleep, memory, academic performance, athletic performance, muscle growth, and your heart. It affects balance, slows reaction time and accuracy of fine motor skills. It also impairs decision making such as driving when drinking or riding with someone who has been drinking and engaging in sexual activities.

Underage drinking is NOT OK. It is illegal. As a parent, you cannot give alcohol to your underage kids and/or their friends. Hosting a party at your home or on your property in which you supply or approve the drinking of alcohol could result in legal consequences. Simply taking away their car keys or believing they are in a safe environment in your home while they are drinking does not solve all problems.  

The most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 2017 shows that 59.2% of North Dakota high school students had at least one drink of alcohol on at least one day during their lifetime. In our Southwest region our percentage is higher than the state percentage at 63.6. The same survey shows that 19.2% of middle school students in the state had ever drank alcohol (other than a few sips) while in the Southwest region 28.6% of the middle school students had ever drank alcohol (other than a few sips).

Let’s change our attitude about youth and alcohol.  Let’s make a resolution to give our youth the best chance they have to be confident, to achieve their goals and dreams, and to grow up to be successful, happy, healthy adults.  Let’s support our youth and NOT support underage drinking.