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Published April 15, 2011, 12:00 AM

Val Farmer: Kids need early lesson on dangers of alcohol

Teenage drinking. Every parent’s nightmare. What can parents do about it? Here is some advice.

By: Val Farmer, INFORUM

Teenage drinking. Every parent’s nightmare. What can parents do about it? Here is some advice.

Don’t drink. Your own example is paramount. You undercut your credibility when modeling a behavior you don’t want them to try. Your determination and attitude will be stronger if you don’t drink yourselves.

If you do drink, drink responsibly and for the right reasons. Escapist drinking or drinking that is out of control teaches the same style of drinking behavior to your children. One good reason not to abuse alcohol is to discourage your children from abusing alcohol. If you have lost control, seek help through Alcoholic Anonymous or an alcohol treatment program.

Believe that alcohol in the hands of teenagers is a dangerous drug. It is dangerous because they are not yet adults. They are impulsive “risk takers” and feel invulnerable to harm. Emphasize the legal age for responsible drinking.

Alcohol clouds judgment when there is still precious little judgment in the first place. Drunken drivers cause more pain, heartache and destruction to families, to people and to property than almost anything else in this country.

  • Talk about alcohol and drugs with your children. It is amazing that this subject is so seldom talked about before there is a problem. By then, it might be too late. Give guidelines and consequences for drinking behavior. Start early. The time to teach youth about alcohol use and abuse is in elementary school.

    Research has shown that parents have a strong influence on whether their children drink when they make their attitudes and values crystal clear. Parents are the anti-drug.

    Be clear about drunken driving or riding with drivers who have been drinking. Have alternate plans available for them if they are in a tight spot.

  • Zero tolerance. Be firm and consistent in your policies. Have preset rules and consequences for drinking. Be consistent and follow through. Being soft on stupidity or disobedience is no favor.

    Be aware of the sneakiness of youth. Kids lie. Expect that they will lie but insist on the truth. Come down hard on lies. Many parents learn sadly that they have been too naive and trusting when they shouldn’t have been. Kids aren’t truly happy when they have beaten their parents through deception. Be familiar with the symptoms of intoxication. Give them the security of knowing you are in control.

    Parents, school officials and law enforcement get results when they apply firm policies and consequences for misbehavior. They need your support. Some youths take risks until they get into trouble. To them, the risk of further trouble isn’t worth it. Siding with your kids to shield them from the consequences of their actions is a great disservice.

  • Know their friends. Know what your kids are doing, where they are and who they are with. Know their friends. It is likely they share the same values as their friends and are influenced by them. Invite them into your home. Host their activities. Wait up for teens at curfew times and visit with them after activities. Trust but verify their stories.

    Encourage church youth group activities, extracurricular activities and associations with peers who strive toward goals. Positive peer pressure is just as real as negative peer pressure.

  • Talk with other parents. Admit to having problems. Band together and support one another. Talk and coordinate with the parents of your children’s friends. Together, you’ll have greater control and knowledge. United parents can influence attitudes and practices in local communities.

  • Precautions. Any alcohol in the home will be an inviting temptation for experimentation. Be absolutely clear with older siblings – you are against them introducing alcohol to their brothers and sisters.

    Be careful of unattended houses. Leaving a teen home alone in the afternoons, in the evenings or on the weekend creates a vulnerability that a teen doesn’t need.

  • Be an actively involved parent. These kids aren’t going to grow up by themselves. Spend time with them. Communicate. Develop a feeling of family. Your bond with them counts. Teach them your values and principles. Have fun with them.

Advice for teens: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk or ride with those who drive drunk. Drunken driving is not “cool.” Don’t laugh at it or ignore it. Give your opinion and take a stand. It may be too late to change some adults, but your generation can help stop this tragic problem.

Know that alcohol is dangerous. You have a future to protect. You are too valuable and life has too much to offer to let an alcohol-induced mistake derail your success.

Don’t drink unless it is your idea. Drinking to be accepted by others is not responsible drinking. Many teens have found that others will respect and like them anyway even if they don’t drink. Be patient and find out if this isn’t true for you, too.

Be careful in choosing your friends. If your friends change and start doing things you don’t like, back away and find new friends. You have a choice.

Learn to like yourself and who you are. Don’t use alcohol as a short cut. It isn’t the answer. It creates more problems than it ever solved.

Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist specializing in family business consultation and mediation with farm families. He lives in Wildwood, Mo., and can be contacted through his website,