With the start of the holidays, young people face added danger in this special season otherwise known for celebration and good cheer. The hooligan? Often it’s alcohol.

School break offers up unstructured, and perhaps unsupervised, time and thus some significant risk — especially when you add in the propensity of some adults to promote alcohol-included events as a way to mark Christmas, Hanukkah, or the New Year.

Let the reindeer games begin.

Teens and alcohol

According to research from SADD and Liberty Mutual Insurance:

• Almost one third (31 percent) of teens say that they have drunk alcohol with their parents.

• Overall, one quarter of teens say that they are allowed to drink alcohol when they are not with their parents, about one in eight host parties where alcohol is served, and slightly more than 40 percent are permitted to attend parties where alcohol is available.

As for the last point, more teens are saying that their parents allow them to go to parties where alcohol is being served in 2011 (41 percent) than just two years ago (36 percent). In addition, more teens are reporting that they are allowed to drink alcohol without their parents (25 percent) in 2011 than in 2009 (21 percent).

That’s not good news.

Nor is the fact that one in three teens who use alcohol say drinking is allowed by parents on special occasions like holidays.

Parental support of underage drinking

Many adults support underage drinking because they believe they have little say in the matter (53 percent). In fact, parents who adopt zero-tolerance policies are the number one reason children don’t drink.

For example, high school students who tend to avoid alcohol are more than twice as likely as those who repeatedly use alcohol to say their parents never let them drink at home (84 percent vs. 40 percent).

Other parents condone alcohol use because they feel if they allow teen drinking at home, it will keep their kids from drinking somewhere else.

Not really.

More than half (57 percent) of high school students who report their parents allow them to drink at home — even just once in a while — report that they drink elsewhere with their friends, as compared to just 14 percent of teens whose parents don’t let them drink at home.

It’s also true that some adults just don’t see the harm in allowing teens to drink. But, if that’s the case, they’re just not looking hard enough.

• Young people use alcohol more frequently and in higher volumes than all other illegal drugs combined.

• The earlier a young person starts drinking (research suggests the average age of onset of underage drinking is 12 or 13, meaning many are drinking at even younger ages), the more likely it is they will suffer from substance abuse problems throughout their lifetime.

• And, neurological research suggests that alcohol use may permanently affect quickly evolving adolescent brains. And not for the better.

Ringing in the New Year

From the early 1980s to the mid-90s, alcohol-related crash deaths among youth plummeted by 60 percent. But progress can be slowed, trends turned, and higher risk realized if we don’t stay focused on the goal of keeping kids safe.

How does that relate to the holidays?

Consider that teen drivers view New Year’s Eve as the most dangerous seasonal event when it comes to driving. Wonder why? After summer, New Year’s Eve ranks at the top of the list of when teens report driving impaired.

And much of that risk remains hidden from those who could be empowered to matter most: parents.

Indeed, about one in eight teenage drivers report that they don’t tell the truth to their parents about driving under the influence of alcohol (13 percent) and one in seven are dishonest about driving under the influence of other drugs (15 percent).

Even so, good news can be found in the demonstrated power of parents and peers to influence the driving-related decision making of young people. Together, they form a significant backstop against poor choices, saving young lives hanging in the balance.

What better holiday present is there than that?

3D Month

It’s time to tame the trend on teen drinking and bend the curve back toward a safer place. December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving (3D) Prevention Month — and the truth is that if young people aren’t drinking, they won’t be driving drunk.

So much for reindeer games.

Stephen Wallace serves as senior advisor at SADD, Inc. (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and associate research professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University. For more information about SADD, visit sadd.org. For more information about Stephen, visit stephengraywallace.com.

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