Alcohol remains the top drug of choice that kids turn to at an early age.

Angelo Valente, executive director of The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, said the holiday season is actually the perfect time for families to have honest conversations about this, especially when they'll most likely be in settings where alcohol is present.

Valente said if a parent is unsure about how to approach such a touchy topic, there are some helpful suggestions offered by the Mayo Clinic.

He said it's important for parents to be completely honest with their teens and ask their views and opinions on the issue of alcohol. Find out what they think, if they have an interest in drinking and why.

Debunk the myths. Teens often think drinking will make them popular or happy. Explain to them that alcohol is a depressant that ultimately will cause sadness or anger.

Valente said discuss reasons not to drink and how alcohol would impact a young person's athletic ability, academic ability or their consistency at being able to attend school.

If there's a family history of alcoholism, be honest about that and explain how the teen might be more vulnerable to unhealthy alcohol use.

Brainstorm with the teen about how to respond to offers of alcohol. Peer pressure is so common at this age and often a difficult time for them. Try to come up with some actions or reactions as far as what ways a child should respond when approached for the first time. It could be something as simple as "No thanks."

Because underage drinking and peer pressure is prevalent in all communities across the state, Valente said it's important that parents understand that the home be a safe place that a teen would want to go to and approach a non-judgmental parent for advice.

Be prepared for questions. The child might ask a parent if he or she drank alcohol when they were underage. Valente said if you did, it might be best to share a painful, embarrassing moment to drive the point home.

"Having these honest conversations, being a safe place, being a place where you respect their opinions and their views is all part of what makes for successful communications between a child and a parent in addressing this issue," said Valente.

For more information on how to prevent underage drinking, go to www.drugfreenj.org.

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