It’s that time of year again when students shed their beach towels for book bags and embark on a school year full of new challenges and experiences. As students prepare for their academic lessons, the federal government is reaching out to parents and other adults about an important life lesson on underage drinking.
During the week of September 10, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is putting a national spotlight on underage drinking with "National We Don't Serve Teens Week" to spread the word that serving alcohol to teens is unsafe, illegal, and irresponsible.
Federal and state government leaders, state attorneys general, media organizations, the beverage alcohol industry and community groups across the country are supporting this initiative by displaying and distributing free materials publicizing the campaign.
Having spent more than 40 years in the practice of medicine, I have spoken to numerous parents about the serious consequences of underage drinking. While most parents realize that teen drinking is linked to injury and risky behavior, they are often surprised to learn where their teens are getting the alcohol.
According to scientific research, most teens who drink obtain alcohol from social sources. This means they are sneaking alcohol from their parents’ homes; having older friends buy it; or are obtaining it at parties. Adults who provide alcohol to teens not only undermine the efforts of parents to protect their kids, but they also are breaking the law.
Recognizing these concerns, the FTC, the nation’s consumer protection agency, has developed an education campaign, “We Don’t Serve Teens,” providing information about teen drinking, how to reduce teens’ access to alcohol and practical tips on talking to teens about alcohol. The FTC’s campaign message and resource materials can be accessed via the www.DontServeTeens.gov website.
There are a few easy steps parents can take at home. Let your teen know that underage drinking can cause health and safety consequences as well as serious legal consequences for the person who provides the alcohol. Keep track of the alcohol in your home. Make sure teens can’t access it without your knowledge.
Take steps outside your home, too. Stand up and spread the word to your friends, neighbors and family members that you do not want other people serving alcohol to your teen. Don’t let your silence be misinterpreted.
While parents may think they have no impact on their teens’ behavior, teenagers consistently rank their parents as the most influential factor in their decisions about alcohol consumption. Importantly, parents need to talk to their teens about underage drinking.
Join the effort to mark “National We Don’t Serve Teen Week” in your own home and in your community. Working together, we can reduce teen drinking by stopping teens’ easy access to alcohol.
Raymond Scalettar, M.D., D.Sc.
Dr. Scalettar is the former Chair of the American Medical Association and is a medical advisor to the Distilled Spirits Council. He can be reached at (202) 223-8911.