Youth Culture Window
When Brooke goes out this weekend, she might have a great night, even meet a guy, and make memories with friends that last a long, long time.
But, if new research is true, what she drinks could be what stays with her the longest.
A Wasted Wizard…and Others
Recently, several high profile stories about young people and their abuse of alcohol have captured the attention of parents around the country.
Daniel Radcliffe, the spectacle-wearing and wand-waving face of the history-making Harry Potter franchise recently reflected on his fame and how he used alcohol to deal with it. (Yeah, I know he’s British…but his final Harry Potter flick just snagged 169.1 million of our dollars on this side of the pond…in the opening weekend alone!) Evidently, a “few” American kids are paying attention to the English actor….
Unbeknownst to most, alcohol played a massive role in his life for several years. In an interview with The Telegraph, the young wizard admitted, “I became reliant on [alcohol] to enjoy stuff…. There were a few years there when I was just so enamored with the idea of living some sort of famous person’s lifestyle that really isn’t suited to me.”
But, Radcliffe’s bout with booze isn’t the only “young-person-wrestles-with-alcohol” story buzzing right now. There’s another one, and sadly, it didn’t end in sobriety. The grievous death of 14-year-old Takeimi Rao in the wine country of Santa Rosa, California has turned heads, as well. In mid July, Rao invited some friends over for a slumber party, and at some point during the night, the girls began mixing soda and vodka. While three of the girls were found vomiting at 2:00 a.m. by Takeimi’s mom, it wasn’t until the next morning that Takeimi’s body was discovered lifeless in the bathroom.
Stories like these continue to cause many American parents to worry about their teenagers’ interactions with alcohol. Rao’s death has left many parents searching for answers in the midst of the tragedy…and wondering if their attempts to avoid a similar family pain will work.
But it may be parents of girls who have the most reason to worry.
Handling Her Alcohol
It’s been hypothesized for a few years that girls now drink more alcohol than guys, and for more serious reasons, as well. These findings from The Partnership for a Drug Free America hint at an increase in alcohol use by girls over the past decade that’s been slow, but steady. The result is that the number of middle school and high school girls who say they drink sits at 59% while boys continue to hover around the 52% mark. (Equally important was the research team’s discovery that girls are more likely than guys to drink and use drugs as a way to avoid problems and relieve stress.)
But now, the latest studies on “binge-drinking” by teens make the situation even more serious.
NOTE: The Center for Disease Control defines binge drinking as “typically happening when men consume 5 or more drinks, or when women consume 4 or more drinks, in 2 hours’ time.” Their newly updated FACT SHEET on alcohol also claims that the proportion of current drinkers that binge is highest in the 18- to 20-year-old group (51%) and binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers.
Researchers from the University of California and Stanford University claim that binge drinking can have long-lasting negative effects on the brains of teenage girls, hitting them even harder than it does young boys.
According to their study, girls who binge drink have less activity in several regions of the brain than teenagers (of both genders) who avoid alcohol. “These differences in brain activity were linked to worse performance on other measures of attention and working memory ability,” claimed Stanford University psychiatry professor Susan Tapert, one of the co-authors of the study. (Boys had reductions as well, but there was “less abnormality” for them than the girls.)
Because of hormonal differences between guys and girls, their lower body weight, their higher body fat content, their slower metabolisms, etc. lots of people – including those of us who aren’t scientists – have often thought that alcohol affects girls differently than guys.
Now we know for sure.
I don’t know too many girls who can handle those effects of alcohol misuse.
A Constant Companion
Alcohol and American teens go way back. Together, they’ve got a storied past…but too many times, that story is one of horror. For generations, American teens have been offered consolation or escape or thrills via the ubiquitous elixir.
But now that we know the stakes are higher than ever, we must do all that we can to make sure that alcohol doesn’t define our teens’ present…or future. One of the easiest things we can do is talk with our kids.
But, talk often. Too many parents think that talking about alcohol can be a one hit wonder. But the truth is, having “one alcohol talk” is just as silly as having only “one sex talk” with teens. Many kids face temptations along these lines on a consistent basis (to varying degrees). We can no longer think that one “don’t drink and drive” lecture will solve all their problems and answer all their questions.
In Jonathan McKee’s new book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, he unveils exactly what this kind of conversation looks like for parents as they seek out “communication arenas” with their kids, places where their kids feel safe to open up, places where they feel “heard” by their parents. In his book, Jonathan shares a story from his own life where his father bought a hot tub. Jonathan’s father still contends that this was “the best purchase he ever made” because when their family got in the hot tub together…his kids would open up and talk, sometimes for an hour at a time. Jonathan encourages parents to seek out these kinds of communications arenas—french fries at the local diner, shoe shopping, hiking trips…whatever it takes. As parents build into their kids day to day, they’ll have the opportunity to teach them lasting values (Jonathan talks more about what this looks like in this short little YouTube clip about building values into our kids throughout the day).
As kids grow, the stressors that accompany maturity grow as well. At different stages in their adolescent development – middle school, high school, even to college – the temptation to drink can change. Make sure you’ve got a consistent message for them through it all. And when you talk….
Talk real. You don’t have to fabricate statistics to get your point across, or show graphic PowerPoint presentations of teen fatalities caused by alcohol use. You could talk about how you handled it as a kid, stressing that you want them to make even better decisions than you did. You could talk about what you’ve seen in life. You could talk about the social, emotional, financial, relational, and even spiritual problems that arise from abusing alcohol. There’s plenty to talk about, for sure. But as you talk, remember to make time to….
Ask questions. Helping teens discover answers for themselves is far better than simply giving them all the answers. (That’s a large reason why we send them to school for 7 hours a day, remember?) This doesn’t mean we bark out questions like a parole officer. Pace yourself. Ask questions as someone who cares about their opinion and as someone who really wants to listen. Turn the conversation into them talking 80% of the time, and you only talking 20%. Make them feel heard.
If you have no idea where to start, here’s a few to get you going (in no particular order):
Do you think the drinking age of 21 is a responsible one?
The answers to these kinds of questions will tip their hands about what they believe…and how you can follow up with them.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how tempted are you to drink alcohol on a weekly basis?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how tempted are you to drink alcohol when you’re stressed?
What are some consequences of drinking that you’ve already seen in life?
Is it OK to binge drink – is it OK to drink at all?
When it comes to “what you believe about alcohol,” where do you get your beliefs/thoughts?
Do your friends drink?
Do your friends encourage you to drink or not drink or neither?
How does drinking alcohol affect my Christian walk?
Alcohol will always be a fixture in our culture, and thus a pitfall for kids to sidestep. But being proactive and relentless on this issue will go a long ways toward ensuring that today’s kids will have a future that’s free of the long-term and damaging effects of alcohol.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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