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Nearly twenty percent of 14 year-olds say they've been drunk at least once,
according to the U.S. Surgeon General, and recent news points out dangers of
alcohol use by the young:

- The Partnership for a Drug-Free America released a study in August,
2008 of 6,500 teens in which 73% said school stress caused them to drink and
take drugs.

- A Columbia University study, also released in August, found that
"problem parents," those who let their kids stay out past 10:00 p.m. on
school nights in particular, are putting them in situations where they are
at risk for drinking and drug use.

- About 100 university leaders called for a national discussion of
lowering the drinking age back to 18, saying it's not clear that 21 works.

The middle school years are crucial in the battle to prevent early alcohol
use. Young adolescents' bodies and friendships are changing. They start
pulling away from parents; yet seek out other adults for guidance. It's the
most vulnerable time, specialists say, but also one of the last times they
still can be influenced by adults.

No one sets out to be a disengaged parent. But it's hard to be vigilant and
talk to your kids about complicated topics when you are constantly on the
go. "As parents better understand the physiological effects of alcohol on
the body and the fact that their children might be starting younger, it can
motivate them to have this sometimes awkward conversation," says Shirley
Malcom, head of the Education and Human Resources office at AAAS. "That's
where the science can help."

Members of The Science Inside Alcohol Project at AAAS are writing a book for
middle school parents and developing an interactive Web-based science and
health curriculum explaining how alcohol affects adolescents' brains and
bodies. Based on extensive research, the AAAS team suggests five steps
parents can take to talk with their kids about alcohol.

1. Find Teachable Moments -- We live in a culture of celebrity. If a
celebrity your child admires admits to a drinking problem, or an instance of
alcohol abuse occurs in your community, talk about it. Ask your middle
school student if she knows anyone who drinks alcohol and whether it is at
parties or has been brought into her school. Answer questions. Have this
conversation often.

2. Talk to Your Kids When Everything is Fine -- Middle school students
are volatile, hormonal beings. They are sweet and wonderful one moment, and
blow up the next. Pick a time when things are quiet and they're a captive
audience such as in the backseat of your car. Don't take no for an answer.

3. Engage Your Kids in the Science of Alcohol -- Adolescents are
incredibly self-involved. Alcohol can cause memory loss, impair sports
performance, incite embarrassing behavior and affect how they feel and look.
Make them aware of these facts. If there is a history of alcoholism in your
family, explain about genetic predispositions towards alcohol abuse.

4. Be Vigilant -- There's no alternative to monitoring your kids. Have an
early curfew. Know where they are at all times. Even if you are not home on
a weeknight, make sure you can reach your kids by phone. Get to know their
new friends and their parents. Find out what their rules and level of
engagement are.

5. Learn to Trust Your Child -- Now's the time when all the work you've
put into creating a value system for your child begins to pay off. Set
limits and enforce rules, but remember to give your child room to make his
or her decisions, within your comfort zone. Praise them when they do well.
It's worth a thousand words.


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