Last weekend Susan was invited to a party by some older kids on her block. "Come over on Saturday afternoon," they said. "We're going to watch a movie on our parents' VCR."
Susan thought the party sounded like fun. She admired the older kids, and wanted them to like her. She was happy that she had finally been invited to spend some time with them.
When Susan got to the party, she found out that no adults were home. A bunch of her friends were sitting around in the basement, making a lot of noise. They were watching the movie and drinking something out of big plastic cups. Someone handed her a cup, and she discovered it was beer.
Suddenly Susan felt uncomfortable. She didn't really want to drink the beer. She knew her parents wouldn't want her to, and she knew that alcohol wasn't good for her. Besides, she hated the taste of beer. She had tried it at home, and she knew she didn't like it.
But Susan really wanted to be popular with her neighbors. After all, they're eighth graders, and she's only in seventh.
Have you ever been in a situation like the one Susan found herself in? If so, you know how confused she felt. She didn't want the drink -- but she also didn't want her new friends to think she was just a little kid, or a goody-goody.
Even though Susan felt confused, she finally decided what to do. She remembered what she had learned when a counselor from a drug and alcohol center in her town had visited her classroom. The counselor had conducted a workshop to teach young people something she called "refusal skills." In other words, the counselor had taught Susan and her classmates ways to say no.
Susan remembered several different ways to refuse the beer. She could try telling the people who offered her the drink that she was allergic to alcohol. She could tell them that she was training for an athletic event, and couldn't have the beer. She could just say, "I don't like the taste."
Or she could try the most honest approach and tell her hosts that although she wanted them for friends, she didn't want to drink with them.
Susan decided to try the last method. To her surprise, it worked. Her hosts took away the glass of beer, and brought her a soda instead. Soon Susan noticed that several other kids stopped drinking the beer, too. She wasn't the only one who didn't want to drink. Drinking alcohol can cause both physical and emotional problems for people of any age -- but it's especially bad for young people. In recent years, experts on drinking have gotten worried about young people and drinking. Researchers have discovered that many young people in the United States are trying alcohol. In Maryland, for example, a study showed that youngsters may begin experimenting with drinking when they're only 11. After this study came out, the governor of Maryland started a special campaign called "Live Well." The campaign is designed to warn young people that alcohol is dangerous.
Pre-teenagers and teenagers are at a stage in their lives when they grow very quickly. Drinking alcohol can interfere with normal growth. Young people can also get addicted to alcohol much faster than older people do. When a person is addicted to a substance, he or she comes to need it more than anything else. The need interferes with normal activities like doing homework, being with friends and family, playing sports -- or just having fun.
Susan made the right decision when she said "No, I don't want any beer, thank you." And she helped her friends at the same time. When she refused, she showed other kids at the party that you don't have to have a drink to have fun. Tips for Parents
Kids and drinking don't mix, yet there are signs that more and more youngsters are experimenting with alcohol. A Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study conducted in 1984 reported that the median age for the first use of alcohol in the state is 11, while between 7 and 9 percent of children aged 13 report using alcohol frequently.
The best weapon against such abuse, counselors agree, is prevention. Area drug and alcohol treatment centers can provide information designed to help parents, educators and community organizations in fighting alcohol use by children. In Anne Arundel County some parents have formed the Maryland Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, developing a network of groups that sponsor alcohol-free activities for kids in the high-risk pre-teen group. Their number is (301) 859-4320. The Washington Area Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse runs programs in the schools and offers a 24-hour hotline for people with alcohol-related problems. The WACADA hot-line number is 783-1300.