For Jan Withers, Monday marked a grim 20-year anniversary: the day her 15-year-old daughter, Alisa, rode in a car with a teenage driver who had been drinking. Alisa was killed after the driver crashed into a guard rail.
"While so much has changed in that 20 years, some things have not. Alcohol remains the most dangerous substance our kids consume—killing more kids than all illegal drugs combined," said Withers, president of the nonprofit Mothers Against Drunk Driving, at a press conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
At the conference, MADD and Nationwide Insurance shared a report from the U.S. Public Health Service's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that shows how underage drinkers obtain alcohol.
While 22 percent of teenage drinkers get alcohol from people who are unrelated to them and under 21, more than half of teenage drinkers obtain alcohol from someone over the age of 21, the report shows. Twenty-six percent of those adults are parents or family members.
"If we are truly going to find a solution to this problem, then we must realize that this is not just a youth problem, but an adult problem as well," said Bill Windsor, associate vice president of consumer safety at Nationwide Insurance, at Tuesday's press conference.
MADD, Nationwide Insurance, and other sponsors are encouraging adults— specifically parents—to openly discuss alcohol with their teens on April 21, during the second annual PowerTalk 21 day. Parents can attend free MADD workshops in locations across the country and download a free handbook with tips from Pennsylvania State University researchers on how to discuss alcohol use with their teens.
The handbook suggests parents be positive and respectful when talking about alcohol use with their teens. Parents should explain the risks of underage drinking, set clear rules against it, and help teens create a plan for handling situations in which they're pressured to drink, the handbook notes.
[See why students learn better with engaged parents.]
According to a GfK Roper Youth Report, 74 percent of kids ages 8-17 say parents are the leading influence on their decisions about drinking, so a dialogue is important. And although PowerTalk 21 day is an opportunity start the conversation, following up on the talk could be life-saving.
"I talked with my daughter, Alisa, about alcohol," Withers of MADD said at the conference. "But not often enough."
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