Many parents might think the right time to talk to their children about the dangers of alcohol abuse would be around 12 or 13 years of age. But a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says parents should begin having that conversation with their child by age nine to help prevent binge drinking and abuse as they move into adolescence.
Through television, movies and the Internet, children are exposed to alcohol at a much younger age then just a generation ago. According to the AAP’s latest report, as many as 50 percent of high school students currently drink alcohol; within that group, up to 60 percent binge drink.
And it’s not only high-school children that are over-indulging. Among 12- to 14-year-olds who drink, approximately half binge drink, according to the report. And while the total number of binge drinkers at this age remains very low (the authors cite one survey which revealed 0.8 percent of 12- to 14-year-olds binge drink), parents should still be aware of the consequences.
Dr. Lorena Siqueira, study co-author and clinical professor of pediatrics at Florida International University, says that the reason to start talking to kids about alcohol before they reach middle school is that children are already beginning to develop an impression of alcohol by nine years old. In terms of prevention, it's better for parents to influence children's ideas about alcohol early, rather than trying to change their impressions later, from positive to negative, she said.
"[Alcohol] is the substance most frequently abused by children and adolescents," Siqueira told Live Science. But because it's a legal substance, the consequences are often downplayed.
"When I have kids in the ICU [intensive care unit], and I tell the parents it’s alcohol, they're relieved," Siqueira said. But they shouldn't feel relief, she added. "Alcohol is a killer.”
Binge drinking in adults refers to five or more drinks for men and four or more for women over a 2-hour period. For teens, the amount of drinks can be lower because they weigh less, researchers said.
For some teens, having even three drinks is considered binge drinking and having fewer drinks than that should not be considered safe.
Part of the problem is how adolescents drink, Siqueira said. They often turn to vodka, and they drink very fast, often directly from the bottle, with the goal of getting drunk — and this can kill them, she noted.
According to the report, nearly a third of fatal car accidents among 15- to 20-year-olds involve alcohol.
Drinking at a younger age can also interrupt brain development and increase the risk of chronic alcohol disorder later.
To warn children about the dangers of alcohol abuse, Siqueira recommends parents use every available opportunity to talk about the issue.
"Alcohol is ubiquitous," she said. And kids see it everywhere - on the sides of buses, on billboards and in movies.
"If you're driving, and you see someone swerving, talk about that. If you see it in a movie, talk to your kids about it then," she said.
One of the best teaching methods is to lead by example. Eighty percent of teenagers say that their parents are the biggest influence on their decision to drink.
That doesn’t mean you should not have a drink in front of your child, but getting drunk or “needing a drink” to handle stress shouldn’t happen, Siqueira said.
The report was published in the journal Pediatrics.
Source: Sara Miller, http://www.livescience.com/52030-parents-talk-about-alcohol-kids-early.html