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One quarter of our teens are alcohol abusers by the time they leave high school. They are teens whose drinking habits produce poor work, excessive absenteeism from work or school, and complaints from friends and family. Alcohol-related accidents remain one of the biggest killers of sons and daughters until they pass college age.

Often a parent first discovers a teenage drinking problem on the morning after:

“Boy, do I feel terrible this morning!”

“Are you sick? What did you have when you were out last night?”

“Ah, just the same old stuff.”

“Todd, you must have had something different from the same old stuff.”

It will probably turn out that Todd was tempted by a few beers for short-term fun and now he has the day-after long-term misery.

Looking beyond the short- to the long-term consequences is one measure of growing up. Even parents can have trouble looking ahead to drinking problems:

“Let him have a little beer, what harm can it do?”

“As long as it’s in the house and nobody is going to drive, it’s OK.”

Drinking habits often produce strange excuses: “I couldn’t help it, I was drunk” is a common teenage misunderstanding of responsibility.

Traffic laws don’t excuse the drunk driver of responsibility and often teens don’tseem to understand that drunkenness is not an excuse for stupidity; it is stupidity. Nevertheless the most common excuse a teenage girl gives for getting pregnant remains, “I was drunk.”

But drinking and driving remains the most dangerous part. All parents dread that terrible phone call in the middle of the night: “This is Officer Jones of the West Virginia State Police, your son has been…”

While teens make up only 6.9 percent of the driving population, they account for 13 percent of the alcohol-related fatal crashes. In 2003, expect 17,000 deaths nationwide due to drunk driving. About 350 will be from West Virginia and 40 of those will be teenagers.

West Virginia’s legal limit of blood alcohol that defines DUI is now set at .10 percent. While our state ranks fifth with 8.24 alcohol-related traffic deaths per 100,000 population each year, our legislature refuses to lower the limit to .08 percent as most states require. Even that’s equivalent to four shots of hard liquor within one hour on an empty stomach, but our legislators evidently feel that is all right for drivers coming down the road at you.

What can parents do?

First, stay informed, on every occasion, about how your son or daughter is going to get home from a party or other activity.

Second, disallow all social events with alcohol.

Third, support and respect the laws concerning drinking and driving and the officers who enforce them – the next car they stop, just in time, may have one of yours inside.

Strict laws do work as I found out during a celebration with my wife’s large family in Norway. Her cousin accidentally picked up her husband’s wine glass by mistake and touched it to her lips. Her face showed near terror as she realized what she had almost done! She was the designated driver for her part of the family that evening and, in Norway, the road blocks and breath tests for any alcohol consumption are almost inescapable.

In the Norwegian courts, any evidence of alcohol and the automatic fine is two months salary! That can’t be brushed off even by the wealthy. Results of behavioral tests and blood levels determine the jail sentence (up to one year) to be added to the fine. The law is strict and drinking and driving is very rare compared to the U.S.

Our legislators have a responsibility to provide an effective law beyond unenforceable suspensions and trivial fines manipulated by DUI lawyers.

Some will say their freedom to judge their own drinking and driving is more important than a few deaths, but they are wrong and we should say so.

It only shows a prejudice against the young to crow about getting tough with teens because of their 14% of the drunk driving fatalities and then wring our hands and coddling the adults responsible for the other 86%.

Copy, fax, mail, or e-mail your support of more strict drinking and driving laws to your legislators today. Send your elected judges the message that enforcing the drinking laws will get your vote.

 

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times: 7 Crucial Habits for Parent Success. Contact him through Parentsuccess.com.

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Raising Good Kids in Tough Times

By Dr. Roger McIntire

When it comes to those dangerous behaviors, drugs often produce the most tragic stories, but in number of abusers, alcohol wins. Alcohol abusers are defined as persons whose drinking habits produce poor work, excessive absenteeism from work or school, and complaints from friends and family.

One quarter of our teens are alcohol abusers by the time they reach college age. And alcohol-related accidents remain one of the biggest killers of our teens until they pass college age.

What’s a parent to do? You can’t protect your kids from every temptation, but you can make sure the right messages are sent:
1. Don’t send the message that alcohol is a problem solver: “I’ve had a tough day, I need a drink.”
2. Don’t send the message that alcohol is necessary for social situations. Using alcohol for its relaxing effect only postpones learning better social skills.
3. Don’t send the message that behavior under the influence is somehow more genuine, natural, or free because it’s more emotional and less thoughtful. Just because behavior is less filtered doesn’t make it better.

Inhibitions have been learned from experience, and thoughtfulness is the most human quality. When teens depend on alcohol to break down social inhibitions, the breakdown of sexual inhibitions is the next bad habit. Intoxication is the most common explanation given for unsafe sex in surveys of teenagers.

Now, about those drugs: Watch the money. The drug business is about money. Where can an unemployed addict get $75 a day to support the habit? Recruiting a new user – your teen – is one of the best sources of money. Pay attention to the amount of money your teen has. Drug pushers look for teen buyers with extra money, so your teen should carry only the needed amount to school or stores.

Watch your model. They are always imitating. Set an example for your teen to follow in the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs – including medications. Teens copy. Review your habits for the sake of your teen.

Watch your teen’s habits. Paying attention can keep you up to date on any temptations. In addition to the money situation, changes in sleeping and eating habits, friends or secretiveness about friends can be a sign of trouble.

One dad recently told me he made a point of regularly calling the parents of his daughter’s friends. As a single parent he liked to compare his experiences with what others were going through.

As much as you think your teen will never abuse alcohol or take drugs, you need to know the signs. Unfortunately all teens show some of these signs from time to time, and it doesn’t indicate drug use. The difference that deserves attention is a cluster of abrupt changes in these signs:

1. Unusual, unexplained need for money, or money missing from the house.
2. Changes in friends, eating habits or sleeping that don’t make sense.
3. Lack of concentration, extreme agitation.
4. “Cold symptoms” that just don’t go away -red eyes, runny nose, increased infections.
5. Changes in appetite, cravings.
6. Changes in fatigue, hyperactivity, appearance, becoming sloppy.
7. Unusual clumsiness, shortness of breath, coughing, peculiar odor to breath or clothes.

One mother’s story began: “John started going with those older kids last summer and suddenly he didn’t care how he looked; he was sloppy, always sniffing, getting up later every day, and he lost interest in everything – even soccer!”
This mother found drug paraphernalia in her son’s room the first time she looked! The cluster of changes in social habits, attitude, and self-care was enough for her to investigate.

Send your parenting questions for Dr. McIntire by e-mail to sumcross@aol.com or visit ParentSuccess.com on the net. He is the author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times and Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship.

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A mother in my church objected to my suggestion that that a limousine be hired (at about $50+ per person) to drive the kids around on prom evening.
The cost of her daughter’s prom dress was $269.

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