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Shielding your teen from the dangers of underage drinking

Underage drinking is a rampant problem nationwide. Approximately one in five teens consumes alcohol, and one in seven struggles with binge drinking, according to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. In New Jersey, those numbers are even starker: Nearly 30 percent of minors aged 12-20 have had alcohol in the past month, and 20 percent have engaged in binge drinking.

Underage drinking can lead to a whole host of problems. On top of the health, safety and addiction risks, the legal ramifications can take a serious toll on your teen's future. A conviction for underage drinking (or underage DUI) could come back to haunt them on college applications and job opportunities. In the short term, the penalties could include significant fines, loss of driving privileges, community service and participation in an alcohol education program.

Warning signs that your teen has been drinking

As a parent, you're in the best position to shield your teen from the dangers of underage drinking. That requires keeping close tabs on their life.

Of course, you know there's an issue when your teen stumbles in well after curfew, reeking of alcohol. Yet it's not always so obvious. Perhaps your teen (or 20-year-old) is away at college, where you can't possibly monitor their comings and goings on a daily basis. Or maybe they're sneaking off to drink when they're supposed to be in school, at a sports event or a study session. If you're not vigilant, your teen's underage drinking could go unnoticed for weeks or months - until they get caught and end up under arrest or, even worse, in a terrible accident.

So how do you know if your teen has been drinking? Keep an eye out for these warning signs:

  • Falling grades and missed classes: If your straight-A student is suddenly coming home with Cs and Ds, that's a big red flag. Likewise, if you find out that your teen has been cutting class, skipping out on sports practice (or other extracurricular activities) or otherwise not showing up for things, it's time to take a closer look at what's going on.
  • A new group of friends: Your teen might be evasive about where they're going and whom they're hanging out with. Perhaps they're spending a lot of time with new friends you haven't met. Peer pressure plays a big role in underage drinking, and if your teen is spending time with an unsavory crowd, they may end up doing things that aren't in line with their normal character.
  • A change in attitude: Teens who get into drinking often exhibit a more rebellious attitude at home, too. They may have no interest in the hobbies and activities that once occupied their time. They might become isolated and withdrawn, no longer as open with you as they once were.

Hopefully, you'll never have to deal with underage drinking in your household, but if you do, you're not alone. Countless other parents have found themselves in the same position. By identifying the problem, you've made the first critical step toward helping your teen steer clear of further trouble down the road.

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