If you as a parent think your teen hasn't experimented with alcohol, the statistics could shake up your assumptions.
In 2012, about 25 percent of 12th graders reported binge drinking and 11 percent of eighth graders said they had consumed alcohol in the 30-day period that preceded a survey conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
But you can take steps to help protect your teen, know what leads to that first drink and develop anti-drinking messages that are effective.
Your teen's friends are the biggest influence, according to Dr. Samuel Kuperman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Kuperman bases that on a recent national study on teen drinking that he and colleagues conducted with more than 800 participants ages 14 to 17.
“We asked where they got their first drink from,” he said. “They're not getting it from parents. They're getting it from friends.”
An underage teen has to find a source. If his best buddy has access to alcohol, he is more likely to obtain that first drink. Teens who get their first drink from a friend are more likely to drink earlier in life, according to a report of the study results.
Those who start drinking at a younger age are more prone to alcohol abuse when they get older, according to other research.
“Delaying when you have that first drink can be protective. If you delay initial drinking from (age) 14 to 18, it has an effect,” the psychiatrist said.
You can exert your influence by getting to know your adolescent's friends.
“Get the kids over to (your) house to see who your kids are hanging out with,” Kuperman said.
Your attitude toward alcohol also carries weight, said Robert Turrisi, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State in University Park, Pa.
Set the example you want your teen to follow.
“If teens see parents walking around with a drink in their hand, they're more likely to model,” Turrisi said.
Don't be permissive.
“Some parents think that if kids have a drink at home it will take away the mystery and kids will be less likely to drink. That's not true, according to the data,” Turrisi said.
Teens who have access to alcohol and are allowed to drink will drink more often and are more apt to be heavier drinkers, according to the Penn State expert.
He also recommends becoming more engaged in your teen's life.
“Monitor your kids. Really know what your kids are doing,” he said.
And talk about drinking.
“Ask, 'Why drink?' Talk about alternatives to drinking,” Turrisi said.
Your high school senior might be envisioning easy access to alcohol in college. Having the talk before your child goes away is more effective than waiting until he or she is already in college, Turrisi said.
In a recent study, 1,900 teen volunteers were divided into four groups according to their alcohol consumption: nondrinkers, light weekend drinkers, heavy weekend drinkers and heavy drinkers.
Their parents received a booklet developed by Turrisi, the study author, to help them discuss alcohol concerns.
One group of parents was instructed to talk to their teens the summer before college. The second group had the conversation before college and again in the fall of the freshman year. The third group was assigned to talk during the fall of the freshman year.
Researchers know that without intervention, teens are more likely to move up a level. For example, from light to heavy weekend drinkers, Turrisi said.
Though the best time for a conversation might seem to be in the fall after your teen has had a taste of college, that is not the case.
“Fall was a little too late to stop the transition (to greater consumption levels),” Turrisi said. Adding a fall talk to the before-school discussion provided no added benefit.
However, talking before college resulted in teens being more likely to remain at their current drinking levels, or even reducing their consumption. For more information, visit the Power of Parents page on the website of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).