Opinion: Working To Keep Teens Safe Over The Holidays

Photo: Keeping teens healthy over the recess.

By: Lisa Gibalerio, Prevention Specialist, and Laura Kurman, Program Director

Wayside Youth & Family Support Network

With the holiday season underway and the opening of retail marijuana shops in Massachusetts, adults are urged to pay close attention to teenagers’ behavior concerning alcohol and other drugs in the days and months ahead.  The Belmont Wellness Coalition is working collaboratively with many partners across town to reduce underage use of alcohol and other drugs. Please be part of the solution and do what you can to reduce youth access to alcohol as well as marijuana products.

As we know, teen alcohol use can lead to unsafe behaviors that put our kids’ health and safety at risk. If we work together, we can help to ensure that our kids stay healthy and safe!  (By the way, for each year that a teen does not use alcohol, the odds of lifelong dependence decrease by 15 percent.)

Retail recreational marijuana shops are opening around the state. In Belmont, although there are no licenses or special permit applications at this time, the town could approve up to two retail marijuana establishments within certain zoned areas. While shops in Belmont would not be allowed to sell marijuana to people under the age of 25, teens may nevertheless find ways to access these products.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), administered several years ago in Belmont, revealed that approximately one-third of teens reported that they are drinking.  Most are getting alcohol from older siblings, older friends, or home.  In many instances, students said, their parents do not know they drink, or do not know how much they drink.

Often, due to their developing brains, when teens drink, they tend to drink too much. Teens who drink put themselves at risk for alcohol poisoning, car crashes, injuries, violence, or unprotected/unwanted sex, and, if they are athletes subject to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) regulations, they may lose the privilege to participate in sports.

As a parent or guardian, you can and do make a difference!

Here are some tips to reduce teen drinking and use of marijuana:

  • Keep alcohol in a secure location, preferably in locked cabinets. Even if you trust your teen, their friends may be tempted by what’s available in your home.
  • If you are hosting a party, do not leave unsupervised alcohol around where it is accessible to underage guests. Tell other relatives not to serve alcohol to your child under the age of 21 as well.
  • Let your child know what you expect. Tell your teen that adults may be drinking during the holidays, but under no circumstances is he/she allowed to drink alcohol.
  • If your child is attending a party, check on the details. Find out if there will be parental supervision, and be sure no alcohol will be available at the parties that your teen will be attending.  Wait up to greet your child when he/she/they arrives home at curfew time.
  • Never serve alcohol to anyone under 21, and don’t allow children to serve alcohol to others. It is illegal to serve or provide alcohol to underage youth, or to allow them to drink alcohol in your home or on other property you control.  See Social Host Liability Law: http://www.mass.gov/essexda/prevention-and-intervention/juvenile-prevention/social-host-liability.html
  • Do not to leave your teenagers home alone if you go out of town. Word gets out quickly and a drinking party can develop – sometimes without your child’s consent.
  • Do not relax your family rules with your own teens during the holidays. It can be difficult to return to previous expectations.

The Belmont Wellness Coalition welcomes your input!  Please consider joining us as we work to keep our kids safe and healthy – it really does take a village!

The BWC, along with Wayside Multi-Service Center, wishes you a peaceful, safe, and happy holiday season.

If I can be of support to you or your teens, please contact me at: Lisa_Gibalerio@WaysideYouth.org

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