As the weather turns colder, young people begin to participate in holiday events and attend basketball and hockey games and other sporting events. Oftentimes, the invigorating nature of these activities, along with the fact that adolescence is a time of heightened risk-taking, leads to the introduction and consumption of alcohol. And although the news is filled with stories about marijuana and opioids, alcohol is more likely to be used by young people, because it’s more readily available and less stigmatized. In fact, family and friends are the leading source of access to alcohol for today’s youth.

While it’s not always possible to prevent underage drinking from happening, parents and other adults in the community can take an active role in giving young people a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.

• Parents have the most influence over their kids’ decision to use or not to use alcohol. Given this influence, parents ought to talk to their kids about alcohol. Research shows that kids who have conversations with their parents and learn about the dangers of alcohol use are less likely to use it than those who don’t have such conversations.

• Parents’ impact on young people is powerful. Research indicates that kids say that losing their parents’ respect is one of the main reasons they don’t drink alcohol.

• When parents and other adults in the community take a tough stand, it can help kids say no to alcohol. Kids can make parents, coaches, youth leaders and other adults “the reason” for not using alcohol.

Setting specific, clear rules about underage drinking and consistently enforcing them, with consequences if needed, is essential. Underage drinking can have real negative outcomes; it only helps to have parents, coaches, youth leaders, and other adults communicate the rules and consequences to young people. Drinking and driving or being in the car of someone who is drinking and driving can lead to loss of life and other tragedies. And even when the consequences of underage drinking aren’t life threatening, they can be severe. Maine has a zero-tolerance law regarding underage drinking and driving, which means that anyone under 21 who operates or attempts to operate a motor vehicle with any alcohol in their blood has their license suspended for one year.

Every adult in the community can be a role model and set a positive example. For young people, what adults do is far more significant than what they say. At gatherings, adults ought to consider serving nonalcoholic beverages only or at the very least have nonalcoholic options available. Without question, adults should not let anyone drink and drive. Also, adults ought to promote healthy activities by helping young people learn how to have fun without using alcohol and encouraging them to engage in school and community activities where alcohol is not present.

The influence of parents and other adults in the community on alcohol consumption by young people is effective. Whether their plans are for a holiday party or a hockey game, make sure youth are under adults’ positive influence rather than alcohol’s negative one.

Joanne E. A. Joy is executive director of Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, a coalition working to improve the health and quality of life in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

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