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Is your back to school list complete?

Gather school supplies. 
  ►Take kids shopping for clothes.
  ►Get sports physicals.
  ►Talk to kids about alcohol and marijuana.

Getting ready to go back to school can be an exciting time  for kids as they look forward to being back with their friends and all the activities and opportunities that school brings.  It can also be a time of sadness, knowing that the freedom of summer is coming to an end.  Kids might also feel anxious, wondering “Will I fit in? Will I make new friends?”

Just like adults, kids can have mixed feelings about going back to school. They also face a lot of pressure, whether it comes from other kids, their parents, or what they expect of themselves. That’s why it is so important to continue to talk with your kids about things that can keep them from reaching their goals, especially alcohol and marijuana.

Messaging - What do they hear?
Messages about alcohol surround youth. TV, billboards, and the internet all expose youth to messages that say alcohol use is cool, sexy, and necessary for having a good time. However, the message they really need to hear over and over again is yours.

Every year in the United States, about 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Alcohol use is associated with many adolescent risk behaviors, including other drug use, delinquency, carrying a weapon, fighting, and committing or being the victim of sexual assault.

When it comes to marijuana, there is a lot of confusion. Kids think that because marijuana has been legalized, it is now legal for them to use. That’s far from the truth. Marijuana is still illegal for anyone under 21, and having more than 40 grams is a Class C felony ($10,000 fine and/or 10 years in jail).

Many also believe that marijuana is harmless.  Again, not true. Marijuana impairs coordination and perception, affects learning and memory, and can increase anxiety, panic and paranoia. Usingany drug regularly, including marijuana, can impair brain development in young people.

Most kids make good choices
Many young people mistakenly believe that “everyone else does it.” When it comes to alcohol and marijuana use, this is simply not true. In fact, about 77 percent of 10th graders and 64 percent of 12th graders reported not using alcohol in the past 30 days. About 81% of 10th graders and 73% of 12th graders reported not using marijuana in the past 30 days (2012 WA Healthy Youth Survey). Most kids are making the healthy choice not to drink or use marijuana.

Ways to keep kids safe
So what can parent do to keep their kids healthy and safe? The StartTalkingNow.org website has specific information for parents with kids from elementary age to college age.  Here are some of the basics:

• Set clear rules and expectations and enforce them.
• Help your child know how to respond to peer pressure and navigate difficult situations.
• Keep communication lines open.
• Provide positive reinforcement and support and encourage good decision-making.
• Help your child to understand the ways  alcohol and marijuana use can harm their bodies, their brains, and their future.

Understand the risks
Some adults don’t realize how dangerous underage drinking is.  They see drinking as a “rite of passage.” It’s something they did as youth, and they “turned out okay.”

Today we know more about the way alcohol affects developing bodies. Because the brain is  still developing, alcohol can permanently damage learning and memory.  Despite what you may hear, many European countries are now having major health and safety problems related to teen drinking, especially binge drinking. More young people, including in the United States, are drinking to get drunk, leading to significant risks to their health and well-being.

You may also hear that using marijuana is safer than alcohol use. Neither is a healthy choice for young people.  Both drugs are addictive, and can impair thinking, coordination, and memory.

We need to ask ourselves, are the risks to our children’s health and success worth it?

Use your influence
Young people say their parents are the biggest influence on their decision not to drink alcohol. You have the ability to help your child understand the risks of both alcohol and marijuana use, so they can make good decisions.

For tips on how to talk with your kids, and for additional resources, go to www.StartTalkingNow and click on Parents.