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Parents Can Curb Teen Drinking

Bonding, Monitoring, Meeting Friends Keep Kids Away From Alcohol

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It's true, some kids need more monitoring than others, Beck adds. "That will vary by family and within the family. My sister and I were very different. She needed much more monitoring, was much more likely to test the rules. Some children are more independent, and because of their peers more inclined to be at risk whereas with others that's not so much a concern."

Start early, he adds. "Well before drinking becomes an issue, well before the child gets a driver's license. Parents need to establish certain expectations -- that they need to be informed when the child will be leaving and arriving, where they are going, who they will be with. Age 16 is not the time to establish expectations. You have to lay the groundwork much earlier: 'You will not have carte blanche access to this car, you need to check in, and you need to be in by 11.'"

The mother's relationship with the child was crucial, Beck adds. Kids who were willing to talk to their mother about drinking were less likely to drink without their parents' knowledge. "When mom did most of the monitoring, but dad set the rules, kids respected that," he says. "When dad makes his opinion known, it's significant because it doesn't happen as often."

Meeting your child's friends -- and their parents -- also helps, says Beck. When children are young, that's easier -- PTA meetings, Little League, and scout groups help. "But once the child goes to middle school, they're interacting with other children whose parents you don't know. The problem is compounded in high school. Get to know the parents, make sure you're on the same wavelength."

Should you smell the kid's jacket for alcohol? Kiss them goodnight, so you can detect the smell of alcohol? Sneak into the room, rifle through drawers, fish under the bed?

Califano advocates simply "seeing your kids a lot during the day" instead. "You need to look in your kid's eyes. You can tell a lot from that."

Help kids with their homework, go to their games, have dinner with them as often as possible, take them to church, Califano adds. "Teens for whom religion is an important part of life, or who attend religious services once in a while, are much less likely drink, use drugs, smoke," he says. "Kids don't go to church unless their parents take them."

Also, understand that adolescence is a different experience for boys and girls. "Girls smoke, drink, use drugs for reasons that are different from boys. Parents need to be sensitive to that," says Califano.

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