COLUMBUS — The holiday season has officially started, and one group is encouraging Ohio parents to make a special effort to check in with their teens to help them avoid risky behaviors.

With days off school, parties and distracted parents, experts say underage drinking tends to increase during the holidays. Rick Birt, president and chief executive of Students Against Destructive Decisions, said alcohol is the most widely used substance among teens, with 14 the average age for a first drink. He encouraged parents to set ground rules to manage expectations, and to not make discussions about risky behaviors as “one and done.”

“We’ve talked with parents all across Ohio who try to have regular, routine check-in,” he said. “Maybe when you’re driving ‘em to the bus stop, go beyond the ‘How’s school?’ conversation; dig into the ‘How are you feeling?’ The more that you talk with your young person, the more able they are to have that ongoing conversation with you.”

Because risk-taking is a typical part of teenage development, Birt recommended avoiding scare tactics. He said the best conversations focus on education about healthy choices and how to make smart decisions in the face of peer pressure.

Other important topics to touch on, Birt added, include the illegal use of prescription medications, tobacco and marijuana. With medical marijuana legal in Ohio as well as efforts to legalize recreational use, Birt said, teens may have misconceptions about its dangers.

“The marijuana of today is not the marijuana from the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “It’s been genetically modified and is much stronger. It is different depending on how it’s ingested – whether it’s smoked or used as a dab, or used in an edible or in some other way.”

Birt also noted that it’s important to keep a check on a teenager’s mood.

“While the holidays are full of lights and glamour and special moments, and while we’re oftentimes more together during the holidays, we don’t always feel that way,” he said. “They can be lonely seasons for many young people. There’s anxiety, and all sorts of other things that come into play.”

Parents who are concerned about a teen’s mental health can contact their primary-care physician. Online resources are available, too, at, and

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

Public News Service