Summertime means no school, days lounging by the pool, and nights hanging out with friends. But for many teens, it can also be the time when a dangerous addiction begins. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), on an average summer day, roughly 11,000 teens take their first drink of alcohol. And the younger they are, the more likely they are to develop alcoholism and experiment with drugs later in life.
While you can’t watch over your teen 24 hours a day, there are steps you can take to help your teen have a safe and sober summer.
Don’t Avoid the Conversation
You might think it’s obvious to your teen that you expect them to stay away from alcohol – after all, what parent wouldn’t want their kid to stay safe and sober? – but it is important that you explicitly tell them this. Skip the lecture and have an open and honest conversation with them instead. Talk about the dangers of alcohol, your concerns, and what they should do if they find themselves in a dangerous situation. It is vital that they know they can go to you for help if needed.
Set Some Rules (And Stick to Them!)
Aside from the “no drinking” rule, you should establish clear guidelines, or boundaries, for what kind of behavior is and isn’t acceptable. Some guidelines to think about include:
- How late can they stay out?
- Can they have friends over when you’re not home?
- How often should they check in?
- Are there any places they’re not allowed to go to?
You should also make sure your teen is aware of what the consequences will be if they do not adhere to them. It’s crucial that you enforce these consequences when rules are broken. Showing too much leniency could make your teen more likely to experiment with alcohol, as they will assume that there won’t be any real consequences if they do.
Introduce Some Structure
Summer is a time for relaxation but that doesn’t mean that you can’t add some structure to your teen’s day. Whether it’s a part-time job, volunteering, joining a sports team, or doing chores around the house, having something that they need to accomplish every day will help keep them busy and less likely to get into trouble.
Keep Tabs on Them
It’s ok to give your teen a bit more freedom in the summer as long as they keep you in the loop. Make sure that you always know where they are going, who they are spending time with, what they plan on doing, and when they will be back home. Feel free to randomly call or text them to check in and see how they are doing.
Remember, you don’t need to become a helicopter parent, but keeping tabs on your teen is an important part of keeping them safe. A great way to do this is by having regular breakfast or dinner conversations about their day. The more you communicate with them, the better.
Trust Your Instincts
If you suspect that your teen is drinking, don’t wait to act. It can be tempting to dismiss their actions as “no big deal” or “normal teen behavior,” but drinking at such a young age can be particularly dangerous. Because most of the alcohol consumed by teens is in the form of binge drinking, they are at high risk for alcohol poisoning. Alcohol also increases their risk of being involved in a car crash and being physically or sexually assaulted. If you think your teen is drinking, talk to them about it and let them know that you are concerned. If needed, reach out to a professional to get them help. You don’t have to wait until they’ve hit rock bottom.