Underage drinking is a tough nut to crack.

Peer pressure is at its maximum in middle- and high-schoolers. In those insecure years, kids will do almost anything to achieve popularity or a sense of belonging, and sadly, drinking is often the price of admission into the social elite.

North Carolina is a good example of how underage drinking can get out of hand. Research reveals that the average youth there has had his or her first drink by age 14. And so two organizations in Pitt County are teaming up to fight that trend.

The Pitt County Coalition on Substance Abuse and the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission are collaborating on a multimedia campaign called Talk It Out. The program is designed to foster communication between parents and kids.

At the program’s website, talkitoutnc.org, parents can learn how to talk with their kids about drinking. They’ll learn what all parents need to know, including tips such as:

  • Talk Early. It’s important to have conversations before they’re exposed to alcohol.
  • Don’t Just Say “No.” Explain Why. Kids need to know how dangerous it is. Just telling them to wait until they’re older won’t work.

The site also provides parents with guides on underage drinking so that parents can be well informed on the risks. It also gives them ideas on how to start the conversation.

Why all the emphasis on parents? Why is the program not an all-out effort aimed at scaring teens straight? Because that approach has not done well in the past – promoting communication and trust is a better way to help young people make better decisions. A 2014 study found that too many parents waited too late to start talking with their kids about underage drinking. It also found that most students agree that underage drinking is a problem, and that having their parents talk more about it to their kids would help.

We will probably never be entirely free of the problem of kids who drink – it’s notoriously difficult to constrain the behavior of kids who are too old to treat like babies, but too young to manage their own life decisions.  But if the problem is persistent, it is not insurmountable: with Talk It Out, Pitt County has found a way to attack underage drinking and change the course of quite a few young lives.

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