During the next few weeks, hundreds of Alexandria teens will celebrate the end of the school year at high school proms and graduation parties, and many will head to the beach for senior beach week. Will these celebrations be fun-filled celebrations with friends or risk-filled events with excessive drinking, drug use and impaired driving?
Unfortunately, the risks are all too real, especially the dangers associated with underage alcohol abuse. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during prom and graduation season, 58 percent of traffic fatalities are attributed to alcohol-related incidents involving teen drivers. While school and parent groups in Alexandria work hard to keep alcohol and drugs away from students during alcohol-free graduation parties and proms, much of the hard-core drinking and other risky behavior occurs after these events.
The notion that Alexandria teens arent using alcohol in significant numbers is flat out wrong. The 2007 Alexandria Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 30 percent of high school seniors have had five or more drinks in a row (binge drinking) at least once in the previous montha level of dangerously excessive drinking that occurs apart from end-of-the-year parties and celebrations. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services research shows that more than 40 percent of teens who start drinking before the age of 15 will develop alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
One thing is certain: Parents have a critically important role to play in reducing teen substance abuse, especially during prom, graduation and beach week season but also throughout the school year. There are many ways parents, especially if they work together, can help protect their teens. Talking about the dangers of drugs, tobacco and alcohol is one of the most effective, along with establishing a zero-tolerance policy for use of these substances. Parents need to know that these discussions with their teens do not fall on deaf ears, even when their teens dont appear to listen. Research shows that kids who learn about the risks of alcohol and drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use these substances.
Fortunately, there are a number of excellent resources for parents. The website of the Partnership for a Drug-free America (www.drugfree.org/Parent) gives specific tips for how parents can connect with teens to prevent substance abuse, and there is an excellent blog for parents, www.decoder.drugfree.org, which discusses teen behavior, including substance abuse at proms and parties. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a comprehensive online resource for parents at www.theantidrug.com, including an e-newsletter for parents and several free handbooks on keeping teens drug free.
As prom, graduation and beach week approach, teens need greater adult guidance. Parents should take the opportunityfor many this may be one of the last teachable moments before their teens leave hometo discuss the dangers and consequences of drinking and drug use. As a community, we applaud the accomplishments of our teens, but its the teens parents, working individually and in collaboration with one another, who have the power to keep these rites of passage filled with fun and laughter, not heartbreak and disaster.
Chair, Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria (SAPCA)
SAPCA is an alliance of parents, youth, schools, city health and recreation agencies, nonprofits, businesses, policymakers and low enforcement who are working together to reduce underage substance use and abuse in the City of Alexandria. SAPCA last year organized a Sticker Shock/Know the Law campaign that placed Stop stickers on beer cases and other alcohol products in more than 50 Alexandria stores. SAPCA members are also reaching out to community groups with presentations on youth substance abuse, and SAPCA is currently engaged in community-wide research to learn more about parent, teen and community perceptions and attitudes about underage alcohol, tobacco and other illicit drug use in Alexandria. For more information, please visit www.alexhealth.org/partnership.