by Donna Nahlik, Prevention Specialist II, Chestnut Health Systems
According to the 2012 Illinois Youth Survey, 33% of Madison County 10th graders report having used alcohol in the past month. 33%...one-third of high school sophomores…Wow! That number jumps even higher (to 44%) for Madison County 12th graders.
This data is extremely disturbing to me. I know, I know. There are some people out there who are thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s just what kids do”.
On the contrary…underage drinking is a VERY big deal. Consider the dangers of alcohol to a teenager. Alcohol is poison to the teenage brain. The brain is not finished developing until a person reaches their mid-twenties. Alcohol damages the still developing parts of the brain and causes irreparable harm. This has been scientifically proven. We also know that kids who drink before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become addicted to alcohol than those who wait to take their first drink at age 21. It affects their heart and liver. I could go on and on, but you get my point.
These are teens, right? Underage drinking is illegal, right? So…how are young people getting their hands on alcohol? Well…
When surveying students who report that they have used alcohol in the past year (2012 Illinois Youth Survey, Madison County),
36% of 10th graders and 35% of 12th graders report that their PARENTS were the ones who supplied them with the alcohol in the first place!
Huh? Why would a parent knowingly supply alcohol to their child? When asked, parent’s answers include:
“I think it teaches them to drink responsibly”
“I take the keys so they cannot drive. That keeps everyone safe.”
“I don’t want them to be mad at me if I say NO”
Let’s take these one at a time:
1. There is no such thing as “responsible teenage drinking”. Period. The teenage body processes alcohol much differently than an adult body does. Young people who drink alcohol put themselves at great risk of alcohol poisoning, overdose, and a host of other physical responses.
2. Anyone who thinks that taking the keys is keeping teens safe is deluding themselves. Driving after drinking is a huge concern but it is not the only one. What about other behaviors? There is a definite connection between alcohol use by teens and other risky behaviors, such as other drug use, criminal behavior, and unwanted or unprotected sexual activity. Plus, who is to say that simply taking their keys is keeping the teens safe? Are the parents going to stay with the kids so that nobody sneaks out? Are they going to monitor their behavior when they are at someone else’s home? It is simply too risky…in a lot of ways.
3. Parents need to be parents…not friends. If parents spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not their kids are mad at them, they will not have time for much else. We all want our kids to be happy…but not at the expense of their future…or their lives. Kids need to hear the word, “NO” sometimes. They are the kids after all, and we are the parents.
For those parents who still think it is “no big deal”, consider the legal consequences of providing alcohol to minors. According to the Illinois Secretary of State and the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, current Illinois law dictates that:
“Providing alcohol to minors under the age of 21 can result in penalties including a maximum $2500 fine and up to a year in jail for a misdemeanor offense. Felony offense can result in a prison sentence of a year or more and fines up to $25,000”.
In addition…even if you did not buy the alcohol:
“A parent/ legal guardian who knowingly allows persons under the age of 21 to consume alcohol at a private residence is subject to a maximum $2500 fine and up to one year in jail. If serious injury or death occurs, parent/legal guardian is subject to a Class 4 felony and is subject to up to three years in prison and fines up to $25,000”.
So parents, if you are thinking about either purchasing alcohol for minor consumption or allowing alcohol consumption in your home, I ask you to please reconsider.
Our kids are too important! If your teen gets mad…so what? Just tell him/her that you love them too much to risk losing them. Keep talking to them. It will be worth it in the long run.