It is not easy being a teenager these days. It appears to be much tougher than it was 10, 20, 30 or more years ago. The pressures from peers, school, parents combined with Hollywood influences increase the wonderment and frustration of being a teen today.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Arizona Underage Drinking Prevention program are trying to make sure parents, and teens understand the perils of illegal drinking with a campaign that recently started and will continue through the holidays.
Kids want to follow the lead set by their role models, Mom and Dad, along with movie stars and athletes, and that includes drinking alcohol and that is where a problem occurs. Kids of all ages don't have the maturity to understand what alcohol will do to their system.
Underage drinking is a major public health problem, says the governor, and others including the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Teens and younger children are more vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage, says the NIAAA. Use of alcohol by an adolescent can interrupt the process of brain development, possibly leading to mild cognitive impairment, as well as to further escalation of drinking, says an NIAAA document.
This brain damage could contribute to poor performance in school and at work. Children and teens who drink are also more likely to have alcohol abuse problems later in life.
There are some scary facts that parents and others need to consider when thinking about giving a child or teen that first taste of alcohol. By the time a child reaches eighth grade, nearly 50 percent say they have had one drink and more than 20 percent have become drunk. That's one out of five eighth-graders who have become drunk.
By the time these children become high school seniors, more than 50 percent report they are drinking three or more times per month. About 30 percent of high school seniors say they take part in binge drinking, which is having more than five drinks at one time.
Problems that come from underage drinking include a high rate of motor vehicle accidents. Teen drinking poses a high degree of risk to the individual and to others. The rate of alcohol-related traffic accidents is far greater for children 16-20, than for drivers over 21 years of age.
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teens 15 to 20 years old. The rate of fatal car accidents among teen drivers who have been drinking is twice that for older people.
According to the NIAAA, alcohol use by kids can cause depression and stress that lead to suicides, the third-leading cause of death of young people. In one study, 37 percent of eighth-grade girls who drank heavily reported attempting suicide, compared with 11 percent who did not drink alcohol.
Research also says that adolescents who drink alcohol are involved in high-risk sex and more likely to be involved with sexual assault. There is a strong link between high-risk sex at a young age and drinking alcohol, says the NIAAA.
Parents and other adults who provide alcohol to children can also face criminal charges and could be held responsible for the actions of those children, should they be involved in an accident.
As adults, we know there is a right time and wrong time to drink. Children have not acquired that knowledge yet. As adults, we also know there is plenty of time after we turn 21 to enjoy or refrain from adult beverages as we choose.
As adults, we should also have enough good sense and maturity to know that providing alcohol to our children could, and many times does have unforeseen consequences.
Adults need to help children learn what is right and wrong, what is an acceptable activity during their youth and what is not.
With everything we do in life, there is a risk-reward syndrome. Is the reward of giving alcohol to children worth the risk to their health and well being? We don't think it is, and encourage all adults to think twice about providing alcohol to kids of any age.