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Early adolescence is a time of immense and often confusing changes for your son or daughter, which makes it a challenging time for both your youngster and you. Understanding what it's like to be a teen can help you stay closer to your child and have more influence on the choices he or she makes-including decisions about using alcohol.

-Changes in the Brain. Research shows that as a child matures, his or her brain continues to develop too. In fact, the brain's final, adult wiring may not even be complete until well into the twenties. Furthermore, in some ways, the adolescent brain may be specifically "wired" to help youth navigate adolescence and to take some of the risks necessary to achieve independence from their parents. This may help explain why teens often seek out new and thrilling-sometimes dangerous-situations, including drinking alcohol. It also offers a possible reason for why young teens act so impulsively, often not recognizing that their actions-such as drinking-can lead to serious problems.

-Growing Up and Fitting In. As children approach adolescence, "fitting in" becomes extremely important. They begin to feel more self-conscious about their bodies than they did when they were younger and begin to wonder whether they are "good enough"-tall enough, slender enough, attractive enough-compared with others. They look to friends and the media for clues on how they measure up, and they begin to question adults' values and rules. It's not surprising that this is the time when parents often experience conflict with their kids. Respecting your child's growing independence while still providing support and setting limits is a key challenge during this time.

A young teen who feels that he or she doesn't fit in is more likely to do things to try to please friends, including experimenting with alcohol. During this vulnerable time, it is particularly important to let your children know that in your eyes, they do measure up-and that you care about them deeply.


-That according to a recent national survey, 16 percent of eighth graders reported drinking alcohol within the past month?

-That 32 percent of eighth graders reported drinking in the past year?

-That 64 percent of eighth graders say that alcohol is easy to get?

-That a recent survey shows that more girls than boys ages 12 to 17 reported drinking alcohol?

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