Why are teens turning up at Marin General after a night out with their friends? Because they’re escaping stress, having fun or trying to fit in, and they don’t know their limits.
Binge drinking to the point of becoming unconscious is a recent epidemic that’s escalating. Parents call me because their teen was taken to the hospital after blacking out during a slumber party where they had access to alcohol.
I’ve been a teen therapist for 20 years, and I’m stunned by the stories I hear. The combination of the internet, social and academic pressure and easy access to alcohol is putting teens over the edge. What’s a parent to do? Unfortunately, because experimentation is so common, it’s normalized. “Everyone’s doing it.” “I can’t find any friends who don’t drink.” These are statements I here from teens after a trip to the emergency room.
Things are different now. We can’t compare the drug and alcohol experimentation of today to previous decades. Today’s teens are driven in a way they haven’t been before. They’re growing up too fast through social media and are exposed to more than they can handle. In this competitive culture, their drug and alcohol use is “too much, too early, too often” as the Ross Valley Healthy Community Collaborative states in their educational brochure. They’re trying to keep up with their friends in every area, including how much they drink, and it’s killing them. We need to change this.
Parents can start by taking a “no tolerance” attitude. Underage drinking is illegal because teens can’t handle alcohol. They’re not physically, mentally or emotionally developed enough, and this is proven by recent brain science. Adolescents have enough impulse-control issues without adding a mind-altering substance to the mix. They’re looking to us for guidance and to keep them safe, even if they resist boundaries.
Even if they don’t admit it, being out of control is very scary for them. Girls confess to me that they use their strict parents as an excuse to not go to parties when friends try to coerce them. It’s important to make it easy for them to do the right thing. If they’re given the option, they’ll do what feels good in the moment and regret it later. This applies to other risk-taking behavior like sexual experimentation, which is much more likely to occur under the influence of alcohol.
It’s essential to know where your teen’s going, who they’re with and when they’re coming home so you can support them to be safe. Parents need to ensure they have responsible supervision during sleepovers because sometimes alcohol is available. Before agreeing to let your teen participate, call the friend’s parents and make sure this isn’t the case. Your teen will hate you in the moment but will thank you later. It shows them you care. You wouldn’t believe the stories I hear about girls sneaking out once the parents are asleep. If they’re drunk when they do this, it’s very dangerous – think cars, boys, drugs.
Speaking of cars, if you think your teen is using alcohol, don’t let them get their driver’s license. As a parent, you have leverage to provide positive motivation. Most of the teens I see after a visit to the emergency room don’t have their license yet. Parents can require a period of sobriety to show they’re ready for this responsibility. Remember, your teen has no life experience and is relying on yours. Let them see that you’re paying attention and taking their needs seriously.
Bottom line, binge drinking is a serious threat to your child’s health and well-being, and prevention is essential. Call us at Teen Solutions (415) 360-5445 to see how we can support you and your child. Sign the Parent Pledge against teen drinking and receive valuable tips for handling this important issue.
Teen Solutions Therapy