– Rhonda Jeffries, M.D., Pediatrician
It’s a troubling fact of life: some kids drink.
“Especially the older they get,” says Dr. Rhonda Jeffries, a pediatrician. “And by senior year, 50 percent or more of kids are drinking. And in fact, by 12th grade, usually 80 percent of the kids have tried alcohol.”
But can a doctor persuade kids not to drink? Kids seem to think so.
“I think coming from somebody besides, maybe, just the parents for some people it will help,” says 18-year-old Andrew Scott, a high school senior.
Lars Thrasher, 17, agrees. “I would think it would be more helpful from a doctor,” he says.
And Christine Terrell, calls doctors advice on drinking and other potentially touchy subjects “extremely beneficial.”
According to a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, when a physician spends just a few minutes talking to kids about the dangers of alcohol, those kids are 50 percent less likely to drink.
Dr. Jeffries says: “If it comes from me, I’m the objective observer. I’m interested in the child, and I try to let them know that. I want what’s best for them, but yet it’s not Mom or Dad saying that.”
The study reports when kids talked with their doctor, they had 55 percent fewer traffic accidents, 42 percent less emergency room visits and fewer arrests for underage drinking. It seems that when doctors warn kids about alcohol, they listen.
Christine Terrell explains: “They’re not invested in you as their child. They’re invested in you for your health, for your interests, for your sake. And I would definitely listen to a doctor, and I have listened to doctors who have talked to me about subjects like that.”
The study suggests it’s a good idea to ask your doctor to talk with your children about alcohol. Of course, experts add, parents should bring up the subject as well. “They need to be open to discussion and to bringing these issues up with their kids,” says Dr. Jeffries. “And I think that parents who are in touch with their kids and connected to them are really helpful in getting their children though adolescence without negative effects.”
LaShauna Pellman, 17, sums it up best. “If my parents tell me something,” she says, “then I listen to them even more.”
Tips for Parents
Alcohol-related fatalities are a leading cause of death among young adults in the United States. In the United States, 70.8 percent of all deaths among persons aged 10 to 24 result from only four causes – motor-vehicle crashes, other unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide.
Should your family doctor take just a few moments to counsel your child about the risks of alcohol, there is great potential for positive outcome. Just a few minutes of a doctor's counseling helped young adults reduce their high-risk drinking and the number of traffic crashes, emergency room visits, and arrests for substance or liquor violations, says a study in the Annals of Family Medicine. Consider the following:
Underage drinking causes over $53 billion in criminal, social and health problems.
Alcohol is a leading factor in the three leading causes of death for 15- to 24-year-olds: automobile crashes, homicide and suicide.
Primary-care doctors should make it a priority to counsel young adults about high-risk drinking. Young adults, ages 18 to 30, who received counseling about reducing their use of alcohol:
Experienced a 40 to 50 percent decrease in alcohol use.
Reported 42 percent fewer visits to the emergency room.
Were involved in 55 percent fewer motor vehicle crashes.
The ways a parent can influence his or her teen’s drinking habits is complex. A universal method regarding what works best in preventing underage drinking may not exist. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that a parent’s attitude toward drinking influences a child's behavior in various ways. One controversial finding was that teens who drank with their parents were less likely than others to have binged or used alcohol at all in recent weeks. Others, of course, argue passionately that parents who drink with their underage children are not only breaking the law but encouraging dangerous behavior that can lead to life-long consequences.
The Journal study also found that strict parenting can curb kids' drinking. Teens who said they feared they would have their privileges taken away if they got caught drinking were half as likely to drink as those who thought their parents would not punish them. In addition, consider the following:
The average girl takes her first sip of alcohol at age 13. The average boy takes his first sip of alcohol at age 11.
Teenagers who said their parents or their friends' parents had provided alcohol for a party during the past year were twice as likely as their peers to have used alcohol or binged during the previous month.
Nearly 75 percent of teens surveyed said they had never used alcohol.
About 25 percent of teens in the study said they'd been at party in the past year where parents supplied alcohol.
Fourteen percent of teens surveyed said they were with their parents the last time they drank.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Focus Adolescent Services
National Youth Violence Prevention Center
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
University of California, Irvine