Teens and drinking: Start talking early -- and often

If the "prom draft" story wasn't enough to turn your stomach, consider this statistic:

One in five high school seniors reports binge drinking at prom, according to a 2013 Journal of the American Medical Association study.

'Tis the drinking season, with end-of-the-year parties and graduation celebrations quickly following on the heels of prom. Which is why a group of parenting experts, headed up by teen authority Jennifer Powell-Lunder, is launching a new "alcohol talk" campaign.

"Sometimes parents think they've had the talk because they addressed it once," clinical psychologist Powell-Lunder, author of "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual" (Adams Media), told me today. "But it's not a talk. It's a continuous conversation."

Powell-Lunder and a team of parents, teens and researchers launched thealcoholtalk.com this week, aimed at steering parents toward a discussion their kids will actually engage in.

"Parents lecture," she says. "We have this mantra in our heads about how we're supposed to talk to our kids, with a very disciplined tone. But the truth is that's not how you get them to listen to you."

Researchers found that 71 percent of teens value what their parents have to say about drinking. The trick is getting them to stick around to hear it.

The site suggests going light on scolding and scare tactics, instead loading your alcohol talk with curious, objective questions that keep your kid talking:

"Wow, huh, tell me more about it."

"I wonder what you could do?"

"What do you think about what happened to those football players who got caught drinking?"

"I can't imagine how hard it must be. Things are much different from when I was a teen."

"We're not suggesting you don't put rules in place or you always have to agree with your teenager," Powell-Lunder says. "You're the parent. You make the rules. But if you want them to talk to you, the No. 1 thing you need to do is listen."

Ideally, she says, parents will start the conversations as early as age 10. Sixty-four percent of teens say they were in 5th grade or younger when they first became aware of alcohol.

Prom and other milestone events offer easy springboards, but Powell-Lunder says parents should also keep their eye out for other opportunities to visit (and revisit) the dialogue.

"Falling-down drunk celebrities are the greatest opportunity," she says.

Time to re-up the Us Weekly subscription.


Twitter @heidistevens13

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