Teen alcohol use kills about 4,300 people each year and almost half of all 10th graders in the United States drink alcohol.
Those statistics are startling, but research shows parents have the power to make a difference. Parents are the No. 1 influence on their children’s decisions about drinking, and communication with teens about alcohol can reduce drinking behaviors by 30 percent.
That’s why Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) created the Power of Parents program, to get parents talking to their teens about the consequences of underage drinking and drug use. Summer is a crucial time to start having or to renew those conversations.
“I know firsthand the immediate and life-altering consequences of teen alcohol and drug use,” said MADD national president Helen Witty, whose 16-year-old daughter Helen Marie was killed while rollerblading by an alcohol- and marijuana-impaired, 17-year-old driver. “Helen Marie died instantly. My family’s life changed forever.”
With increased vacation travel, fewer students in school, and warmer weather, the summer months are among the most dangerous on our roads, especially for teens. But teens don’t have to drive for drinking to turn deadly. In fact, 2 out of 3 of these deaths do not involve a vehicle.
There are also other reasons for teens to avoid these behaviors, and why the national drinking age remains 21. A teen’s brain is still developing, which means it can be more easily damaged by alcohol and other drugs — including marijuana.
Studies show that teens who don’t drink alcohol before age 21 are 85 percent less likely to become a drunk driver later in life, and are 80 percent less likely to abuse alcohol or become alcohol-dependent. Teens who start drinking young are seven times more likely to be involved in an alcohol-related crash.
“These crashes destroy lives and affect entire communities,” Witty said. ”If you haven’t talked to your teen about underage drinking and drug use, please start now. If you have, please keep talking. It matters now more than ever.”
Parents who don’t know how to start these conversations with their teens can access extensive resources, including a downloadable parent handbook, at madd.org/powerofparents. These resources are also available at local MADD offices.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), [email protected]