June 17, 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.

Alcohol and Young Adults

Speaking of high risk behavior…..how about young adults and alcohol. Maybe you’re a bit weary, having held the line on teens and drinking through high school and maybe even middle school.  By high school graduation, you might be thinking, what’s the point?  When they leave they’re going to be drinking anyway no matter what the drinking age.  Besides, they’re young ADULTS.
But here are some facts to renew you for the last mile of your parenting journey where kids and alcohol are concerned. They are sobering and even downright chilling. 

Life, Health, Suicide

  • 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
  • 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.
  • More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem, and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use.

Maybe you’ve decided it’s okay if they don’t drive….but it doesn’t always work that way.

  • 2.1 million students between the ages of 18 and 24 drove under the influence of alcohol last year. 

What About Alcohol and Sex?

  • More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.

Alcohol Affects their Education

  • About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.

What would it mean if your kid got arrested?

  • About 11 percent of college student drinkers report that they have damaged property while under the influence of alcohol.
  • More than 25 percent of administrators from schools with relatively low drinking levels and over 50 percent from schools with high drinking levels say their campuses have a “moderate” or “major” problem with alcohol-related property damage.
  • About 5 percent of 4-year college students are involved with the police or campus security as a result of their drinking and an estimated 110,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are arrested for an alcohol-related violation such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.

College Drinking can be the Start of Lifelong Problems

  • 31 percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6 percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence in the past 12 months, according to questionnaire-based self-reports about their drinking.

So what are you supposed to do about all this?  

Every reliable authority on the subject of teens and alcohol states that nearly 75% of kids cite their parents as the primary influence in their decisions about whether they drink alcohol or not. 
To influence them you need to communicate.  That’s hard for most of us.  We might enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.  Are we being hypocritical when we tell them no alcohol at home until they are 21?
In our family, alcohol use is a big issue.  Shake any branch of our family tree and down will fall a problem drinker, Mike’s Hard Lemonade in hand.  So this is what I’ve told my kids:
  • Genetics has a big influence on whether alcohol becomes a problem for you and, sorry to say, you are at a big disadvantage there.
  • Every year you hold out means that the performance-compromised kids around you are a little bit older, a little bit more mature. An inebriated 21-year-old might make slightly better decisions than a drunk 17-year-old.  
  • Before you make that decision to drink, observe the kids who are drinking.  What are they doing?  What do you think of them?  Is that who you want to be?
  • I will go anywhere, anytime, wear any disguise, to bring you home. I will doze on the couch, cellphone in hand til you are safely home. When you are away at school, find a buddy who will do the same.
At home, we’ll stick to the law…meaning no drinking before age 21.  And then, only in moderation.
How’s this approach working?  With one half-way through college and one going next year, so far so good.  Having seen adult family members fall from the heights of success has brought the message home, too.
It’s a big topic that we need to open up in conversation. Beneath the glamorous and outwardly benign veneer of social drinking is a hairy monster.  Those of us who have seen it up close know that every kid who leaves home is walking into the belly of the beast.  What have you done to equip them?  What has worked? What hasn’t?  
If you can, direct open-minded kids to a great quick read.
For teens try this link at kidshealth.org   
If you’d like more information, here’s a great source from the Federal Government’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Acoholism

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.