Back-to-School Checklist: Middle and High School Edition

 

It’s mid-August and chances are, you’ve checked most of the back-to-school items off your list: school supplies, haircuts, new shoes, text books. You want your kids to be prepared, and you’re willing to navigate long lines and late nights to make sure they’re all set.

But are your kids just as prepared for the changes and peer pressure that come with each new year of middle and high school? Do they know where they’ll face the biggest pressure and how they’ll handle it? As a parent, even if you’re armed with information, how do you make sure your kids will listen?

The average age youth in Texas report drinking their first alcoholic beverage is 12.6, which is also the average age of a seventh grader. But in all likelihood, your child isn’t getting their alcohol at late-night raves or bars or dance clubs. The majority of middle and high schoolers get alcohol at home, from friends, or at parties.

For middle schoolers, this usually means drinking with 3-4 friends in their own home or at a friend’s house. For high school students, most drinking happens at house parties, which are often in the homes of friends or family. The parties usually take place when adults are away or simply unaware drinking is taking place under their roof. In other cases, parents are home and aware there is underage drinking occurring; they might even be supplying the alcohol.

As your kids continue to grow and encounter new experiences when they’re not under your watchful eye, how do you help keep them safe without locking them up until they’re 21?

Research says that if your message – don’t drink until you’re 21 – is clear, your child is less likely to drink than if you communicate a message that says, “I know you’re going to drink no matter what I say, so just be safe.”

Talking with your kids about alcohol isn’t an easy task, but there are some great resources available to help you have those conversations. We love these suggestions from Dr. Laura Markham over at Aha! Parenting. On her list of 15 suggestions for talking to your child about alcohol, she suggests parents try to “coach instead of control” and practice role-playing scenarios with their child.

Coach Instead of Trying to Control

You can’t actually control your child when she’s out of your sight. But you can help her become a person who has good values and good judgment. You do that by modeling and by talking. Ask questions to help your child reflect on what’s important to her and who she wants to be. Then listen hard. You’ll learn a lot from her answers.

  • Why do you think it’s illegal for kids and teens to drink alcohol?
  • What would you do if you were in a car and the driver had been drinking?
  • What about if the driver was a grown-up, like the parent of a friend?
  • Do you know any adults who drink too much? What do you think of them?
  • Have you ever thought that I drank too much? Acted differently when I drank alcohol?
  • Do you know any kids who have tried alcohol or drugs? Do you think that’s a problem?
  • Why do you think kids try alcohol?
  • When do you think kids are ready to try alcohol?
  • What do the kids at your school do at parties? Have you been to a party like that?
  • Have you ever been offered a drink? How did you handle it? Were you tempted? Why or why not?
  • What could you say if you were offered a drink and you didn’t want to look foolish?
  • What could you do at a party if you were feeling a little nervous, besides drinking?
  • What would you do if you were at a party and someone passed out from drinking alcohol?
  • Would you be worried about becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs? Why or why not? 

Have Practice Conversations with Your Child

Talk with him about the various scenarios he might encounter and the decisions he might have to make. What might he do or say? For instance, if someone offers him a drink:

  • No, thanks, I’m the designated driver.
  • No, thanks, I want to keep a clear head tonight.
  • No, thanks, I don’t drink.
  • No, thanks, my playing on the team is too important to me.
  • No, thanks, I’m allergic to alcohol.
  • No thanks, I love my cokes plain.
  • No, thanks. My parents would ground me forever if they found out — and they always do!

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has a lot of resources to help parents talk to their kids about alcohol.  Along with SAMHSA, we encourage you to “Talk. They Hear You.”  This summer, set aside some time before classes get started to talk with your kids about alcohol, peer pressure, and the decisions they may face in the new school year. They may not want to open up at first (and you may feel nervous asking questions, but don’t let that stop you!), but once they do and these conversations take place, they’re more likely to make choices that keep them healthy and safe.

To help get you started on these conversations, we’ve created a checklist of talking points below. If you have any other advice for talking to your kids about alcohol, be sure to share your tips with us in the comments!

Drinking to Cope with Parenthood Has Reached “Meme” Status

We’ve recently noticed – and perhaps you have too – a lot of internet memes, Instagram photos, ads, merchandise, and even events that make light of drinking to deal with the challenges of parenthood. At first, we didn’t think too much of it and maybe even gave some of the jokes a little chuckle. But once we started paying attention, we really started noticing it, and it became more and more troubling. What message are we sending our kids? That they’re so bad they drive us to drink? Or that drinking is the best way to cope with stress? Take a look for yourself:


Despite mountains of research telling us drinking alcohol is not the best way to deal with stress, we continue to see a growing collection of these types of things. It made us wonder – when did the alcohol industry decide parents were the ideal target?

From sponsoring wine and beer events for moms and dads to advertising gifts on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we’re shifting the cultural norms to something that ultimately, is not healthy for our children.

But, the more we see the social media posts, ads, t-shirts, mugs, and on and on and on, the more normal it becomes. Not only do we believe that “everyone else is drinking,” we believe it’s warranted. However, for every pretty photo of a happy hour cocktail shared on Instagram, there’s a real-life consequence to our parent drinking culture: our kids are watching, and we’re normalizing alcohol use for them, too.

We’ve shifted our cultural norms so that our kids see us treating alcohol like it’s any ol’ drink – soda, juice, coffee, tea. But it’s not. At its core, alcohol is a drug that can have severely negative consequences – especially when young people use it.

So, we don’t want to just brush this culture shift off. We want to join others in calling it out for what it is: exploitative marketing capitalizing on the difficulties of parenting.

We’re not saying parents should never relax and unwind with a glass of wine or a cold one here and there. But the fact of the matter is, parents have a huge influence over their children’s future drinking habits.

Case in point, this internet post of a child’s response to a school assignment asking them to write one sentence about a family member and draw a picture:

More often than not, our children will adopt the behaviors we model for them. If we tell our kids not to drink to fit in or deal with difficulties, but they then see us drinking to “cope with the stresses of parenting,” what message are we giving them, and what behavior are they going to copy?

Parenting is hard. It’s one of the toughest jobs in the world, and it can seem flat out overwhelming at times. Building connections and getting support from others is an important and meaningful way to strengthen our villages so we can keep our kids healthy and safe.

At the same time, it’s important for us to pay more attention to the messaging we’re being fed when it comes to parental drinking behaviors – it’s a kind of manipulation that is so pervasive, we may not even recognize it as marketing. However, being aware of it and knowing that our behavior influences the future behavior of our children might encourage more of us to scroll past that “mommy juice” meme on Facebook without giving it a “like.”

What kind of messages about parental drinking have you all seen circulating lately? Are they more pervasive with the rise of social media? What concerns do you have about this type of consumer marketing strategy? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Summer Mindfulness

 

Summer can be a time for leisure and fun for many young people, but June and July also bring reduced parental supervision and increased boredom – and a drastic change in drinking patterns for adolescents.

On an average day in June or July, more than 11,000 kids, aged 12 to 17, start drinking. For most other months, that number is 5,000 to 8,000 per day.
Parents should be aware of the increased risk for drinking during summer months, and work to make sure the young people in their life have fun without alcohol.

After all, we know the myth that underage drinking is harmless is pervasive. While the biggest danger is drinking and driving, there are so many additional consequences to underage drinking.

Children who begin consuming alcohol before age 15 are six times more likely to experience alcohol dependence or abuse as adults. Additionally, underage drinking is linked to an increase in fights, sexual assaults, and unplanned sexual activity. Underage drinking also results in a higher likelihood of alcohol poisoning and injuries.

Right Under Our Noses

Young people are most likely to obtain alcohol from social settings and house parties. For this reason, parents play a critical role in preventing underage drinking – if they do not provide a space for underage drinking to occur, young people are significantly less likely to drink.

Parents should provide fun activities that do not involve alcohol; hosting get-togethers that are explicitly substance-free (a pool party, splash party, or movie night with adult supervision) can be an opportunity to bring kids together in a safe and alcohol-free environment. Parents should also check with the hosts of parties their children will be going to about whether alcohol will be served.

Social Host Ordinances

Texans Standing Tall is encouraged by a new development in some Texas cities that are adopting social host ordinances to help prevent underage drinking at house parties. So far, three Texas cities — El Paso, San Antonio, and Palmview —have adopted these ordinances that hold people accountable for underage drinking that occurs in their homes or on their property.

If you’re interested in participating in an initiative in your hometown, contact us for more information about how to implement a social host ordinance. Email Libby Banks (lbanks@texansstandingtall.org) or Brian Lemons (blemons@texansstandingtall.org), or call us at 512-442.7501.

This summer, help to encourage safe fun by being mindful of what your child does and providing appealing alternatives. We hope you have a fun and safe summer!

 

Keurig and Anheuser-Busch InBev Team Up For New Alcohol Product

Keurig and Anheuser-Busch InBev announced in early January that they were teaming up to create an appliance that can dispense beer, spirits, mixers, and cocktails in the home.

The companies are still researching how the product will work, but this premature announcement, without so much as a prototype, is troubling for anyone concerned with preventing youth from using alcohol.

Alcohol remains the most used substance by Texas youth. Texans Standing Tall, along with our partners, have taken to the front lines to end the normalization of alcohol for teenagers and young college students. Products like the one Keurig/Anheuser-Busch have planned and SodaStream’s in-home beer brewer (sold in European markets with plans to spread to others) make it easier for youth to access alcohol by having alcoholic beverages more readily available in the home.

These creations add to a growing list of challenges parents and prevention specialists face while working so hard to keep our communities safe. The alcohol industry’s innovative ways to appeal to youth are why Texans Standing Tall focuses on reversing the normalization of alcohol with evidence-based policies like social host ordinances. Since most youth get their alcohol from social settings, limiting youth access at parties and other social events can both reduce youth alcohol consumption and decrease the negative consequences that occur as a result. This includes things like unplanned sexual activity, sexual assault, drinking and driving, property damage, binge drinking, violence/fights, and combination drug use.

“According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, alcohol use is the leading cause of death, disease, and disability worldwide for people aged 15-49.”

A press release on Anheuser-Busch’s website says that the North American market will be the company’s primary focus for the product. Of course, this isn’t the first time Anheuser-Bush InBev has targeted the United States with gimmicks. Remember when we reported in mid-2016 about their exploitation of American imagery and sentiment to promote their product when they temporarily renamed their beer? According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, alcohol use is the leading cause of death, disease, and disability worldwide for people aged 15-49. This is a public health pandemic and deserves serious attention, not more gimmicks and novelty products.

The company did not specify a product name or a timeline for when it will hit a shelf near you, but Texans Standing Tall will be keeping an eye on its availability to make sure our fellow community lifeguards are prepared for addressing new threats to our youth and social access challenges. If you are concerned about underage alcohol use in your community, contact Brian Lemons or Libby Banks for more information about how a social host ordinance works and controlled party dispersal trainings.

Prevent Risky Behavior This Holiday Season

As finals put a bow on the fall semester, high school and college students are beginning to make plans to get together for parties or reunions as friends gather back home. With time on their hands and a festive season, there are many opportunities for the dangers of alcohol use to jingle all the way into their young lives. Along with the holiday gatherings comes the frightful increase of alcohol-fueled risky behavior like unwanted or unplanned sex, fights including alcohol-related car crashes. With the semester ending, now is an extremely important time to discuss the dangers of drinking and driving with the youth in your life.

Many parents believe allowing their children and their children’s friends to consume alcohol under their roof encourages healthier attitudes toward alcohol, but in truth, alcohol consumption by underage youth increases the risks of unwanted or unplanned sex, fights, homicides, and suicides. Parents also believe that taking the keys away from youth will prevent them from drinking and driving, but they may not be aware that youth are more likely to binge drink outside of the home when parents allow alcohol consumption in the home. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drivers ages 16-20 are 17 times more likely to die in a car crash when they have a high blood alcohol concentration compared to when they have not been drinking. The CDC also reports that the chances for alcohol abuse increases when people begin drinking in their teenage years and The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that 90 percent of addictions begin in the teenage years.

Modeling good decision-making with alcohol is an effective approach to preventing your teens from making risky choices. Parents should also consider a “rules of the road” contract with their youth. Studies show that the children of parents who establish and enforce rules around alcohol make positive decisions when it comes to drinking and driving.

A good way to lead any conversation with youth is to remind them of the Zero Tolerance Laws in Texas, which makes it illegal to consume alcohol under the age of 21. It does not matter if the substance is provided by a friend’s parent, it is still illegal in the state of Texas.

Texans Standing Tall is a resource for coalitions and communities across the state working to address youth social access to alcohol. A long-term, community-based solution that TST educates about and promotes is a strategy called a civil social host ordinance. A civil social host ordinance is a city ordinance that holds people accountable for providing the location for underage drinking parties. Our partners at Circles of San Antonio are working toward a healthier and safer community through a social host ordinance. The city of El Paso recently passed such an ordinance. We are hoping to see many more around our state.

If you are interested in learning more about how a civil social host ordinance works:

  • visit our website
  • contact TST’s Strategy Specialist Brian Lemons
  • contact Community Mobilization Coordinator Libby Banks.