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Parents, Teens and Alcohol...A Dangerous Mix

Your teen may whine, "You're the ONLY parent who won't let their kids drink when they're seniors." But the Princeton, New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation commissioned a study in 1998 and found that 96 percent of Americans view underage drinking as a significant problem and support measures that would reduce teen drinking. The study also showed that 83 percent of respondents favored punishment of adult providers.

"Underage drinking is a factor in nearly half of all teen automobile crashes. It also contributes to suicides, homicides and fatal injuries, and is a factor in sexual assaults and date rapes," Robert Wood Johnson vice president Nancy Kaufman stated.

The mixed messages that parents send when they "bargain" with teens and allow them to drink at home may actually be to blame for excessive teen drinking. A 1993 study of 15,000 students by the Minnesota-based Johnson Institute, which fights alcohol use at school and work, showed that permissiveness at home affects adolescent choices more than peer pressure. Mothers Against Drunk Driving surveys estimate that when parents "bargain" with their kids and let them drink as long as they promise not to drive, teens are more likely to drive after drinking or be in a car with someone who is drinking. The University of Minnesota's School of Public Health found that teens whose parents or friends' parents provided alcohol for parties were more likely to drink, get into traffic crashes, get involved in violence, and participate in thefts.

Then there's also the sticky problem of setting a bad example for teens who want to do the right thing. "Some kids don't want to drink. They want an out and their parents provide a good excuse. If kids say 'Want some?' and they say, 'No, my parents will kill me," most kids say, "Ok, that's cool, there's more for me!'" says 18-year-old Courtney Michna. "But if parents are saying 'Go ahead, it's perfectly fine to drink,' then what out do they have?"

"Parent-sponsored drunk-fests make it harder for the kids who don't drink and parents who won't let their kids drink. It's almost an inherent challenge that these parents lay down by saying, 'I'm sponsoring this because I think your teen is mature enough to drink responsibly.' Kendrick asserts. "A teen who doesn't drink or whose parents say it's wrong thinks, 'What's wrong with me? Am I the only one who feels this way?' But there's a huge difference between kids experimenting with alcohol and kids drinking with adult approval."

Debby Hutter, a mother of four adolescents, agrees with Kendrick's assessment. "I feel like I would be ostracized if I said my daughters couldn't go to a prom or graduation party because there was drinking going on. My daughters say to me, 'Mom. You just don't get it.' But I don't get how parents -even if they take away the car keys-can justify serving 16, 17 and 18 year olds beer. Kids make bad choices, but what can you do when parents facilitate those choices? It's totally disgusting to watch these kids get drunk!" }]

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