By Dr. Jan Hittelman

It is always disturbing how many adolescents think alcohol and tobacco are safer because they are legal. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a parent it can be very challenging to protect our children from the temptation to experiment with alcohol and tobacco. Many would argue that alcohol and tobacco companies put tremendous effort into marketing to adolescents. We also know that early experimentation with alcohol and tobacco correlates with higher incidences of other risk behaviors including: use of illegal drugs, more likely to get into fights, carry weapons, attempt suicide, suffer from mental health problems such as depression, and engage in high-risk sexual behaviors. Not to mention the documented health risks associated with alcohol and tobacco use. We also know that when teens begin experimenting with alcohol and tobacco at a young age, they are significantly more likely to develop a lifelong addiction.

Parents often underestimate their power in influencing the choices that their children make. Numerous studies indicate that when parents have ongoing conversations with their children about alcohol, tobacco, and other substances, their children are 50% less likely to engage in these behaviors. We also need to be thoughtful about our modeling these behaviors to our children.

The time to begin the discussion is now!