April 14, 2021

Protecting Teens from Alcohol Abuse

Prom Night, Grad Night or Holiday Bar-B-Q – teens and alcohol are hauntingly omnipresent. If your arguments for abstaining from alcohol are losing their oomph or maybe missing the mark, there is some new research out on the effects of alcohol on teens that might fill your quiver.

One study was done by Susan Tapert, a neuroscientist at University of California San Diego on the effect of alcohol use on the developing brain.

Teen Brains are Different

FACT: Teen brains are not adult brains. Your teen might have a deep voice and tower over you, but you are not fooled by this. Your young adult’s decision-making is often anything but adult.

There’s a reason for that: teen brains are still in development. Scientists used to think that brain development was complete by around age 10. But today we know that the frontal lobes are not fully connected to the rest of the brain until the mid 20′s. This poor communication with other parts of the brain shows up in judgment, i.e., the ability to determine “is this a good idea?”, or “what are the consequences of this action”.

Tapert wanted to understand how alcohol affects these not-fully-developed brains. So she studied a group of 12-14-year-olds, before any alcohol or drug use, and followed them for a while. Over time, some of these kids started drinking, some of them drinking heavily — 4 to 5 drinks per occasion, 2 to 3 times a month. Upon testing them she found significant decreases in memory and thinking among alcohol users.

In addition, she found a difference between girls and boys in some particular kinds of functions that were affected. Alcohol use affected girls’ spacial functioning, which impacted their talent for mathematics and engineering. Boys who used alcohol had more attention problems, which led to problems focusing on boring tasks or information over long periods of time. Tapert describes it as “the difference between an “A” and a “B”.

Safe Amount of Alcohol

While everyone is different, Tapert maintains that there may be no safe amount of alcohol for some teens. Further, Harvard neuroscientist Frances Jensen points out that the brain chemistry of children and adolescents is responsive to everything in their environment — that’s how they are able to learn so easily. It also makes it much easier for kids to become addicted than adults.

Protecting your Kids from Alcohol Abuse After they Leave Home

Alcohol researcher, Caitlin Abar, from Pennsylvania State University studied how parents handled the alcohol issue with their high school kids and then followed up with 300 kids after one semester at college. She found that the best long-term protection against overuse of alcohol came from parents who completely disapproved of underage alcohol use. Children with permissive parents during high school were more at risk for binge drinking later.

Their conclusions refute the common European practice of drinking with the family as a way of teaching them to drink responsibly. This was reinforced in a recent survey of 15- and 16-year-olds across Europe showing a higher rater of teen drunkenness than in the U.S.

Hold the Line on Alcohol

So hang tough. As the research unfolds about alcohol, teens, and addiction, we need to let go of the beliefs we held as carefree young adults and be willing to play by new rules. There’s a lot at stake.

Read more  about the impact alcohol use can have on your college student. And find out more about these studies and related stories at National Public Radio.

College Application Crunch Time

Thanksgiving vacation and, if you’ve got a high school senior, have I got an “App” for you!  How about a “College App” as in those 8 or 10 or 12 college applications that must be completed right down to the last “Club participation”,  and 925 character essay on  “Why do you think the journey to be oneself seems the riskiest of all journeys?”

If you are lucky enough to be at one of those great private high schools that makes it their mission to step every student through the college application process to completion, go right now and thumb through those cancelled tuition checks with an attitude of gratitude.  If you’re the parent of a child enrolled in an exceptionally rare public school with a well-staffed, well-trained guidance office that actually focusses on something other than truancy and getting everyone to graduate, get on your knees and thank your Lord.  You still have some work to do on the college application front but you are in better shape than most.

Now for the rest of us, supporters of public education in all its permutations, its time to move “college stuff” to the top of our priority list.  You may have made a good effort so far to keep up on ACT test dates, SAT Subject Tests, college nights and all the rest.  But unless you have a 4′ x 8′ spread sheet on the kitchen wall with a dry erase marker keeping track of due dates, scholarship apps, essay prompts and reference letters, you need to step it up.

College Application Process Got Complicated

When you applied to college just a few short decades ago, it went like this:  Guidance counselor “helps” you pick 3 schools.  You send away for catalog and application.  You fill out application in blue ballpoint, including your 2 SAT scores and a short blurb on why you want to go to their college.  Counselor writes a recommendation. Parent writes a check.  Into the envelope.  Apply stamp.  Mail and wait for your acceptance letter.

It’s NOTHING like that now.  You’ve figured out that your kid has taken 16 tests in 6 different sittings which, thankfully, have been auto-sent to the schools your child listed. Make sure you’ve updated this list at collegeboard.com, to reflect the latest short list of schools. You’ve also used the database at collegeboard.com to find out which schools use the Common Application, which require supplemental information and essays, and which have their own application.  You’re putting all this on the spreadsheet, right?

Letters of Recommendation and Transcripts

You’ve noted which schools require Letters of Recommendation and which of those must be from a teacher, from a counselor, from both or from either.  Get these going RIGHT NOW if you haven’t already.  They take a minimum of 2 weeks to turn around, longer as the deadlines get closer.  Your child might have a “Brag Sheet” in the bottom of their “bookpurse” which should be filled out and given to the recommender, along with stamped addressed envelopes to every school that requires one. Many schools have a form for the recommender to fill out.  Include that.  Mark on your spreadsheet when you gave the stuff to the teacher and follow up before they are due.

Your student needs to get their official transcripts, including class rank, from your high school registrar.  They will come to you in a sealed envelope and will be sent with each application.

The College Application ESSAY

Finally, the dreaded essay.  You want to cruise through all 6 or 8 or 11 applications/supplements and cut and paste the essay prompts and instructions into a document that you can print out.  With this overview, you’ll be able to see where topics overlap and you may be able to rework a couple of essays a couple of times to get the job done.  

College Application Deadlines

Not entirely sure why the early decision/early action movement came about.  To end the suspense?  Save money on unnecessary applications?  Our college planner likes to avoid the whole “early” business all together, for a very interesting reason:  the awarding of scholarships and aid is really a negotiable process.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t a few years ago when my son was doing all this.  I thought you hope and pray they accept you and then you gratefully accept whatever money they choose to give you.  Not so.  Financial Aid offices regularly negotiate aid to pull in good students who might be courted by other schools.  Early action/decision tells them you are VERY interested and might weaken you just a bit next spring when you are negotiating your financial aid.  Something to consider.



College Essay Writing Zen

If you look online for help with your college application essays, you’ll find plenty, some more helpful than others.  This admissions advice for those applying to Yale University is at the top of my list! 

What makes it so great?  First, it’s an excellent recap of all the points that trip up students the most. Second, its a nicely done video featuring an experienced member of Yale’s admissions team.  5 minutes and completely worth it!   Have a look… 

Yale University – Putting Together Your Application Essay


Off to College Essentials– Dorm Room

Just what are you going to need to make that cold, bare, unfriendly dorm room livable?

Dorm Room Must Haves

Fully enclosed mattress pad

Additional (memory) foam pad

1-2 set of sheets

Good pillow

Warm blanket/down thing

Portable/foldable Laundry basket, preferably with pocket for SMALL* laundry soap & dryer sheets

          *for no more than 10 loads – probably 2 loads!

If they can’t use their ID card for laundry, Roll of quarters


Bulletin board & pins

Posters and sticky stuff to put them up

Shower kit/caddy

Box of Kleenex

Extra headphones

Plate, mug, spoon/fork/knife, sharp knife.

??coffee maker??

Snacking food:  crackers, cocoa, fruit (okay, maybe not), cookies, Monster Beverages, etc.

Assorted plastic storage.

P.S.  4 sturdy plastic crates from Target WILL support a bed – more underbed storage clearance.



Paying for College

Paying for college is kind of mindblowing. Based on our high school senior’s “Target List”, she is looking at annual college expenses (that’s tuition, room & board) of $24,700 for the in-state University, on up to $52,000 for the out-of-state private school. Per year! Times 4 years. Or maybe 5 (which seems to be pretty common these days). YIKES!

For those of us with high school seniors, our window for Saving for College has closed. Right now it’s all about taking advantage of every break. To do that, you probably need some help because this stuff is complicated!

College Financial Aid Basics

First, you need to know something about how the system works. I found this at the on-line magazine Suite101.com:  “Colleges do not exist from students making full tuition payments. They can’t because most students cannot afford to pay full tuition…The federal government has a formula in place to equalize the availability of college to everyone. The FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, decides what a family can afford to pay for college. The college dips into its investment funds to offer grants and scholarships to fill in the gap. The sliding scale that the FAFSA provides is how so many students and families can afford college.”

Help with College FINANCIAL Planning

Filling out the FAFSA is complicated with a lot of the information coming from your 1040 (which you will want to file in January so that you can complete the FAFSA on time). The tricky part is what counts against you –what assets of yours are added up to determine how much you should be paying for college. We got a little help with this part. There are a lot of college planners around. I had heard mostly about the ones who strictly focus on helping your child pick their schools and complete their applications. We were more in need of someone who knows the ins and outs of paying for college.

College Planning Source here in San Diego has actually helped us in both areas by first working with our student to focus in on areas of interest, career goals and then schools with the best programs to help her meet those goals — all of this without parental intervention, which is, no doubt, why it has worked so well. With the target schools list, our counselor, Michelle, took our financial information and used her expertise and software tools to calculate our Expected Family Contribution (EFC) at each of the schools. There it was in black and white with tears all over. But there was hope. She was also able to give us really specific historical information for each target school about how much aid they give and what form it takes– grants (don’t pay back), loans and work/study. Looking better……

Next she had some tips on how to get our EFC down even further, by changing some of our assets from the kind that count against us to the kind that don’t count at all. Better still.

Don’t Miss The New Tax Credit for College Students

And just this week, she sent me an email about a new higher-education tax credit, which was part of the stimulus bill signed into law in February. We could get $2,500 for EACH KID right off our taxes next year. We don’t even have to fill out any extra financial-aid applications to get the new money — just file our tax return. Get more info about this one here!

The point is, paying for college is a tremendous feat and a lot of us are paying more than we need to. Negotiating all the ins and outs of what we are eligible for can be a full-time occupation. If your time is already pretty booked, look for some help. It may be well-worth the investment. Make sure your college counselor is a member of the National Association of College Funding Advisors and/or the National Institute of Certified College Planners.