Current prEvents   April 21, 2017   Times Argus

By Ann Gilbert, Director, Central Vermont New Directions Coalition

Spring is finally here and the end of the school year is drawing near. Prom, graduation, and summer season can be a time of celebration for teenagers and their families. The Vermont Department of Health’s ParentUp initiative ( and community partners have been working hard to encourage parents and the community to help youth make good decisions. April is Alcohol Awareness month and a good prompt for parents to talk with kids about drinking. This can be a very fun time of year yet also a time of tragedy for too many young people as they face the consequences of underage drinking, drug use, and other destructive decisions.

Parents play a vital role when it comes to the decision making of their children.

Since 80% of kids think their parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol, parents are in a position to model responsible behavior; set clear expectations about drinking; support teens in their academics, interests, and free time; and communicate with discipline and support. It may not seem like kids are listening—but they are. It is necessary for parents to articulate their concerns and values and talk about the dangers of underage drinking, tobacco, marijuana use, and even taking a prescription medication not prescribed to them. Kids need to hear that their parents do not approve. This is a good time to share information about their family history. Age and genetic factors play a big role. Kids who drink alcohol before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence when they are adults, compared to those who wait until they are 21. When parents, grandparents, or other relatives have had problems with alcohol and drug dependence or have suffered from mental health issues there is an increased risk for youth. This is similar to knowing there is a history of a chronic disease such as heart disease or cancer in the family. Research shows that kids who report that they hear this information from their parents, know that they care and tend to make healthy choices.

Looking at data from the 2015 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) from the Vermont Department of Health, here’s what Vermont high school students reported they have done: In the past 30 days: 30% drank alcohol and 16% binged (5 or more alcoholic drinks in a row); 7% drove after drinking alcohol; 22% smoked marijuana; 15% drove after using marijuana.

This information is a health and safety concern for parents, families, educators, and the teens themselves. Everyone can be part of the community effort to create a safer environment and help kids reach the age where they can make a responsible choice about alcohol and drug use.

No drinking party is safe.

When well-meaning adults host parties where alcohol is supplied or tolerated, it sends a dangerous message. This tells kids that it is okay to break the law and it can be hard for them to know which laws should or should not be obeyed. Underage drinking in Vermont is illegal. Taking away the keys is not the solution. Parties where alcohol is present carry an increased risk of alcohol poisoning, violence, date rape, unplanned sex, and injury.

Brain development

While many believe that underage drinking is an inevitable “rite of passage” that adolescents can easily recover from because their bodies are more resilient, the opposite is true. According to the American Medical Association “The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence, and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes. Short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much to suffer the same negative effects.” Kids need these thinking, memory, and feeling parts of their brains—the frontal lobes—to help make decisions and pay attention. Alcohol use can cause shrinking in the brain and create problems for teens that can have long lasting effects. 

TIPS from Parent Up Vermont

Vermont parents know it’s important to have conversations with their kids about alcohol and drug use– from elementary, middle, high school, and kids at college. These may not feel like easy topics to bring up. It’s important for parents to remember that it’s not just the questions you ask, but it also depends on how you ask. Start calmly, start casually, and pick a peaceful surrounding–maybe in the car. Be upbeat and positive, watch your body language and stay calm. Focus on the facts that you are worried about drinking and drug use among kids and the dangers involved. Ask kids what they know, have learned in school, or think about—you might be surprised at how much information they have, and how much misinformation can come from movies and online. Share how great their life is and goals such as college or a career and being healthy, safe, confident, responsible, and happy. Help them figure out ways to avoid some partying situations without losing their friends such as choosing alternative activities and interests they enjoy. Show them you are listening and respecting them without getting angry at what you might hear. Remember, you want this to go well. Nothing makes teens shut down faster than an angry, judgmental, or lecturing parent. To get through to your child about the dangers of underage drinking and drug use—and keep the door open for future conversations—do your best to keep it natural and positive. It gets easier and is so important to continue this conversation and consistent messaging throughout the coming months.


Parent Up: For tips on talking with your teen about alcohol and marijuana use and identifying warning signs, visit:

Partnership for Drug free kids: and

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Talk. They Hear You” campaign:

Nat’l Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH):

Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition in collaboration with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, as part of the Regional Prevention Partnership grant from the Vermont Department of Health.