Our culture is is full of myths about drinking, and teenage drinking in particular. The law is clear, children are not allowed to drink legally until they are young adults 21 years of age. Yet many adults refer to ‘common wisdom’ about their own experiences growing up and use this ‘wisdom’ as a reason to ignore up-to-date science and research as well as the law, telling the kids in the process that it’s okay to do so as well. In fact, much of our cultural common sense on this subject is mostly myth.
MYTH #1: Drugs are the problem, but a little alcohol, responsibly introduced, is okay.
FACT: More children are killed by alcohol annually than all illegal drugs combined. 5,000 people under age 21 die each year from alcohol-related car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning, and other injuries such as falls, burns, and drowning. That’s more than 13 teens per day, in the U.S.
FACT: In parenting workshops, parents express a belief that allowing teens to drink at home reduces curiosity as well as the likelihood that their teens are binge drinking outside of their watchful eye. In accompanying student workshops we have conducted over 10 years, students consistently report that their parents don’t care if they drink outside of the home because they are allowed to drink inside the home.
MYTH #2: Drunk Driving is the major risk of underage drinking.
FACT: While drinking and driving leads to 24% of teen driving fatalities, teen alcohol use contributes to
- Serious injuries – More than 190,000 people under age 21 visited an emergency room for alcohol-related injuries in 2008 alone.
- Impaired judgment – Drinking can cause kids to make poor decisions, which can then result in risky behavior like drinking and driving, sexual activity, or violence.
- Increased risk for physical and sexual assault – Youth who drink are more likely to carry out or be the victim of a physical or sexual assault.
- Brain development problems – Research shows that brain development continues well into a person’s twenties. Alcohol can affect this development, and contribute to a range of problems.
FACT: “Among young men and women, recent substance use and use of either alcohol or drugs at last intercourse were both strongly associated with having had more than one sexual partner in the past three months.” –Guttmacher Institute
MYTH #3: I don’t have to worry about drinking and drugs until my kids are in High School.
FACT: More than 50% of 8th graders say alcohol is “fairly easy or very easy to get” (75% of 10th graders say the same thing).
MYTH # 4: 21 is an unrealistic drinking age. We should lower the drinking age in the U.S.
FACT: Since raising the drinking age to 21, the U.S. has seen fairly steady declines in teen drinking and teen binge drinking.
MYTH #5: Responsible teen drinking is okay, it’s drugs that present the real threat to my kids.
FACT: 50% of kids who start drinking before age 15 will face alcohol or drug dependence as adults. Every year they delay until 21 reduces their risk by 4-5%.
MYTH #6: The “European Model” of underage drinking works.
FACT: The “European Model” of introducing teens to alcohol at younger ages produces high levels of binge drinking among European teens and equally high or higher rates of alcoholism than in the U.S.
MYTH # 7: If my kid gets binge drinking out of his system in high school where I can watch him, he’ll be okay in college.
FACT: Binge drinking in high school and parental attitudes about high school and college drinking are significant predictors of binge drinking in college.
FACT: “…the impact of alcohol use in high school on alcohol problems in college tends to be composed of a moderate direct effect and a relatively strong indirect effect … on current alcohol consumption in college.”
MYTH # 8: My kids won’t listen to me if I tell them “no.”
FACT: “(H)igher levels of perceived parental involvement were associated with weaker relations between peer influences and alcohol use and problems. These findings suggest that parents continue to exert an influential role in late adolescent drinking behavior.”
Do Parents Still Matter?…Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2004, Vol. 18, No. 1, 19–30
FACT: “I wish my parents would tell me what they really think about this stuff. I don’t want lectures, just really want to talk.”
– 15 year old girl in Key Concepts Workshop (2008)