The need to provide meaningful education on the dangers of underage drinking and drug use here in Portage County has never been greater. According to the Portage County Community Health Status Assessment Report, in 2015, 47% of Portage County youth in grades 6-12 had at least one drink of alcohol in their life, increasing to 71% of youth seventeen and older.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence want parents to know that research shows that kids who learn about the dangers of underage drinking from their parents are up to 50% less likely to experiment than kids who don’t.

As a parent you can be a primary source of positive and reliable information and it is important to take advantage of “teachable moments.” It’s not so much about “the big talk,” but about being there for them when the issues come up — on TV, at the movies, on the radio, about celebrities or sports figures, or about their friends,” advises Joel Mowrey, PhD, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. “You have more influence over your kids’ attitudes and decisions about alcohol than you think.”

It can be daunting to talk with your children about drinking and drug use, but it will be well worth the effort you put into it. Here are some basic guidelines to assist you:

Listen Before You Talk — Encourage Conversation: As parents we want to have “all the answers.” And, sometimes we are so anxious to share our wisdom – or our opinion – that we don’t take the time to listen. For kids, knowing that we are really listening is the most important thing we can do to help.

Talk to Your Child and Ask Open Ended Questions: Talk to your child regularly – about their feelings, their friends, their activities. As much as you can, and sometimes it’s not easy, try to avoid questions that have a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

Be Involved: Get to know your child’s friends and continue to educate your child about the importance of maintaining good health – psychological, emotional and physical.

Set Expectations, Limits and Consequences: Make it clear that you do not want your child drinking or using drugs and that you trust them not to. Talk about possible consequences, both legal and medical, and be clear about what you will do if the rules are broken.

Be Honest and Open: Care about what your child is going through as they face and make decisions that will affect their lives now and for the future.

Be Positive: Many parents have discovered that talking about these issues with their children has built bridges rather than walls between them and have proudly watched those children learn to make healthy, mature decisions on their own.

Family History: Both research and personal experience have clearly documented that addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that can be linked to family history and genetics. So, if you have a family history of problems with alcohol or drugs, be matter of fact about it, as you would any other chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. To learn more about the resources available in Portage County, contact the Mental Health & Recovery Board at 330-673-1756.