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8 ways to prevent your child from underage drinking
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A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says that you should start warning your children of the dangers of alcohol by the age of 9. - photo by Matthew Williams
Twenty-one percent of young people say they have tried alcohol at least once by age 13, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. That number increases to 79 percent by the time they reach 12th grade.

The problem becomes worse when those young people begin to abuse alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08, which in teenagers can be as few as three drinks.

Binge drinking can cause heart or liver disease and can lead to death from alcohol poisoning, according to WebMD.

The AAP report says alcohol can interrupt brain development in adolescents, which could lead to developing an alcohol dependency later in life. While under the influence of alcohol, teens are also more susceptible to exhibiting risky behavior such as drunk driving, unprotected sex or suicide, according to the AAP report.

On top of that, surveys indicate that children start to think positively about alcohol between ages 9 and 13 years, writes the AAP report, making it important to inform your children about the dangers of alcohol even sooner than they try their first drink.

While getting through to a second-grader will be different than an adolescent, there are many ways to make sure your kids know the dangers of alcohol.

Talk to them

Believe it or not, children do listen. So you may want to talk to them about alcohol. The AAP report noted that 80 percent of teenagers say their parents as their biggest influence on whether they choose to drink, and parents can help those children stay away from alcohol.

The AAP report said "parental communication on alcohol use before college entry was more likely to prevent nondrinking students from transitioning to heavy drinking status."

Set firm rules

Parents Empowered, an educational campaign to reduce underage drinking, advises parents to set clear rules about no drinking and to establish firm consequences if they break those rules.

"Set clear rules about not drinking alcohol while underage, and establish firm consequences for drinking," Parents Empowered's website reads. "Make your expectations clear about what your child should do if offered alcohol. For example, 'If there is alcohol at a party, call me and Ill pick you up.'"

It is also helpful to discuss situations where they may be offered a drink, and how to say no if they're offered a drink, according to Parents Empowered.

Get to know your child's friends

The greatest risk factor in getting a child to drink is having a best friend who drinks, The Huffington Post reported.

But if parents get to know their child's friends, it might lessen the likelihood of underage drinking.

"Get to know the parents of those friends. (You don't have to be creepy about it, just friendly)," HuffPost reported. "If you do all this, not only are you more likely to pick up on a problem, but you also send a really clear message that your child, and their life, really matters to you."

The AAP report says that underage drinkers usually get alcohol from parents, siblings or other relatives, too. So it may not be a bad idea to get to know your child's friends parents, too, HuffPost reported.

Be a good role model

The second greatest risk factor that leads to underage drinking is seeing dysfunctional drinking at home, according to aforementioned Huffington Post article. If parents use alcohol repeatedly, or drink excessively, their children are likely to pick up on those habits, the article said.

Encourage healthy activities

A study found that being involved in extracurricular activities significantly reduces teenage alcohol and drug use.

Kids who are involved in healthy activities will have less time to get into trouble, the study found. Athletics, dance, musical instruments and art are great activities that can serve as a reason to not drink because it would hinder their ability to perform.

Strengthen your child's faith

Our own Kelsey Dallas reported teens with strong religious worldviews were less likely to have drunk alcohol in the previous six months (19 percent) compared to nonreligious teens (34 percent). The report said it didn't matter which faith the teens' belief was in, but the strength of their faith.

Know the warning signs

The NIAAA lists seven warning signs that your child may be drinking: academic or behavioral problems, changing friends, loss of interest in activities or appearance, smelling alcohol on breath or clothes, slurred speech, coordination problems, and memory problems.

Ask for help

It is not very likely that your child will admit to you they have been drinking, even if you ask.

If you believe something is wrong, but don't know what to do, The Huffington Post suggests to ask your child's doctor or school guidance counselor for help. They can ask your child about substance abuse in a way that is more likely to generate an honest answer.
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