Prom is being held for many local schools in April and May, and that means the end of the school year is just around the corner. Graduation for seniors – and summer vacation for all teens – is just a few weeks away. What better time for a sobering reminder to parents to address underage drinking with their children?

During the summer months, many teens have more freedom than during school. Also, many teens have jobs and free time to party with friends. For these reasons, summer can present increased opportunities and risks for underage drinking for some teens. If you think that teens are not drinking, please consider the national and local statistics on underage drinking:
• Even though drinking by anyone under the age of 21 is illegal in the U.S., people aged 12 to 20 years drank 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States this year. On average 26.4% of underage drinkers (10.8 million persons aged 12 to 20) used alcohol in the past month.
• A yearly average of 4.2 million young people between the ages of 16 and 20 reported driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs during the past year.
• Approximately 5,000 deaths of people under the age of 21 are the result of underage drinking each year.
• The average Missourian’s first use of alcohol occurs at age 13.43 years. In Taney County, the average age of first use is 12.5 – which is typically 7th grade.
• Another serious long-term effect of teenage drinking is that it leads to adult dependence.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that teens who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol addiction than those who do not begin drinking until age 21.

The good news, however, is this: parents can make a difference in the choices children make about drinking. Studies show that teens whose parents talk to them about alcohol and drugs are 42% less likely to use those substances than teens whose parents do not discuss the issue with them.

Possession of alcohol by a person under age 21 in Missouri is a misdemeanor. As an adult, providing alcohol – or making alcohol available – to someone under age 21, is also a crime. These are crimes in large part because of the negative effects of alcohol on minors.

So, please take these facts and the topic of upcoming prom and graduation events to initiate a discussion with your children about the risks to them of underage drinking. Your kids just might listen.

(For help talking with your children about alcohol and drugs, visit If you would like to become involved with Taney County’s efforts to reduce and prevent underage drinking, please contact Alaina Williams at for more information about ADAPT – Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team.)

*This op-ed authored by Jeff Merrell was published in the April 7, 2018, edition of the Branson Tri-Lakes News.