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Keeping teens alcohol-free

Parental disapproval turns out to be the key reason children choose not to drink alcohol.

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There is bad news and good news about teenage drinking.

The bad news, research suggests, is that children who start drinking below the age of 15 are more likely to become alcoholics than those who start at the legal age of 21.

The further bad news is that new scientific evidence suggests that underage drinking could damage a teen's rapidly developing brain.

The good news is that concerned federal and state agencies are sounding the alarm about this serious problem.

The further good news is that parental disapproval turns out to be the key reason underage children choose not to drink alcohol.

Even in Utah, a state with a large Mormon population that eschews alcohol, 59 percent of Utah parents are surprised to learn that some heavy binge drinking starts as early as the sixth grade.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has launched a media campaign called ParentsEmpowered.org designed to educate parents about the dangers of underage drinking and the proven skills to prevent it. "You have more power over the choices your children make than you may realize," say Mr. Huntsman and Utah first lady Mary Kaye Huntsman.

He believes parents who drink should tell their children that some people should not drink alcoholic beverages at all. This includes children and adolescents, pregnant women, and people who plan to drive or take part in activities that require attention or skill. These parents should make it clear they do not want their children to drink alcohol until they are 21 and then only in moderation.

Parents who do not drink should explain to their children the reasons for not drinking, whether they are religious, health-related, or due to family history. They should set clear rules about no underage drinking, know where their children are and with whom, ensure their children's social environments are alcohol-free, and have daily, positive communication and interaction with their children. They should explain that drinking alcohol is not a "rite of passage" but a dangerous drug for a teenager.

The ParentsEmpowered.org cam­paign draws on research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The research finds that alcohol affects a teen brain differently than it affects a mature adult brain. It posits that the brain goes through rapid development and "wiring" changes during the ages of 12 through 21 and that teen alcohol use can damage this wiring.

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