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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dear Friends,

Do you know what you will be doing this summer to separate it from the rest of the year? Whether we have kids in school or not, adults need a time to recharge, too. I am an avid supporter of solar power. No I don’t have panels on my roof or spend time lying on the beach. The panels are too expensive, and my wife burns very easily. But I do plan to “get out.” I even have a Life is Good hat with that directive front and center.

Looking through the upcoming issue of Prevention Works!, I notice a common thread. What do Dating violence, distracted families, alcopops, and summer days have in common? How about healthy recreation?

Adults serve as the primary example for our youth. What are we going to show them this summer? Let’s start with modeling healthy dating relationships. To do that, we need to actually have a date with our significant others or closest friends. Last week, I went out to dinner with my wife for the first time in too long. We went to a local Indian vegetarian restaurant in Franklin Park. We got dressed up, planned to avoid the early bird special – even if it would save money, and looked forward to a relaxing night out. Even when we finally found our destination, which turned out to be a hole in the wall in a strip mall (no offense – the food was delicious) instead of a restaurant requiring her nice dress and my shirt and tie, we settled in for a nice evening.

I was struck by several things during the evening. First, the tightly-packed tables were occupied by an elderly couple, a multi-generational family, a young family, and a group of college students. There was much laughter, passing of plates as everyone tried what each other ordered (the sharing was kept to singular tables ), and a relaxed atmosphere. There was no rush. Adults helped children order; the students had a blast – even in a place without a liquor license; and there was not a single argument to be heard.

At that moment in time, adolescents and young adults saw couples all the way into their eighties having a nice night out together; without alcohol on the menu, food and family were the center of attention – everyone was present; and since school was out, even the young children were out socially with their families until nine o’clock.

I, for one – for two with my wife, will do this again – hopefully several times – over the summer. I feel better already. What are your plans?


PS Now, if I had a blog, we could continue this conversation and really have some fun…

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Having “The Talk” With Teens

Almost every parent and teenager knows about and dreads “the talk”.

“The talk” is when a parent tries to have a conversation with their child about sex. This can often be a very awkward and uncomfortable conversation for both parent and child. Most parents have no idea when they should have this talk with their kids or how to go about it. Instead, many choose to avoid it. When their parents don’t speaking to them about the topic, kids instead learn from other sources such as friends, music, television, and the internet.

This same issue exists when it comes to alcohol use. Avoidance of the issue and delaying conversations will force the child to learn from other sources, as well as through their own experimentation. This experimentation can be very dangerous and can cause a myriad of problems in the future.

Proactive parents who are involved in their children’s lives, and don’t shy away from tough topics such as alcohol use, can help prevent these future problems.

The prevailing belief held by many parents is that they should talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol when they get to high school, because that is where their kids will be exposed to it. This is actually not true.

In fact, 20% of 8th grade students report having been drunk at least once in their lives. The best advice for parents when talking to their kids about these issues is to talk about it before it becomes an issue.

Another common mistake that parents make when talking to their kids about alcohol is to offer the overly simplistic “alcohol is bad so don’t do it” message. This can often do more harm than good. If kids hear this, but then witness a parent or family member drinking alcohol, it can create confusion and a mixed message.

Instead, parents should seek to provide their children with knowledge about alcohol. Speaking to children about the facts such as alcohol’s effect on the body, addiction, and deaths caused by alcohol can actually have a much greater impact. The key to helping your child make good decisions is to be honest, loving, patient, and trusting.

Some tips for talking to your children:
Encourage conversation- Encourage your child to talk about their interests and allow them to teach you something. With the doors to communication open, talking about more serious topics will be easier and less uncomfortable for you and your children.
Ask open ended questions- The key is to not ask questions that can have a yes or no answer. This allows your child to express how they feel about a particular issue and prevents a conversation from turning into a lecture.
Control your emotions- If you hear something that you don’t like, try not to respond with anger, because this can discourage your child from being open and honest with you in the future. Instead, respond in a constructive manner that will address the issue without closing the lines of communication.

Something as simple as a conversation can change the course of a child’s life, so speak to your kids today.

By Antony Thottukadavil

Energy Drinks and Alcohol, A Dangerous Mix

For generations, people have relied on caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and soda to wake them up and keep them up. For some people, the first thing that they reach for in the morning after their toothbrush is that cup of coffee to get their day started. With the emergence of energy drinks, many people are choosing them instead. Their advertisements and variety of drink choices have made them very popular, especially among youth. This popularity has spawned a new and dangerous practice of combining energy drinks with alcohol. Energy drink and alcohol combinations have actually become a part of the partying subculture and are especially prevalent on college campuses.

Alcohol acts as a depressant on the body and slows down heart rate. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and increases heart rate. By combining the two you are sending mixed messages to your nervous system which can cause cardiac problems such as heart palpitations. This can be very dangerous and may pose a serious harm to an individual’s health.

The issue of alcohol and energy drink mixes has come into the spotlight with the emergence of premade alcohol and energy drinks combinations such as Four Loko. Four Loko is a drink that recently became extremely popular among youth, especially college students. It has been linked to several arrests and alcohol-related incidents on college campuses across the country. One can of Four Loko is 23.5 fl oz. and at 12% alcohol by volume, contains the same amount of alcohol as six beers, as well as almost the same amount of caffeine as four cans of soda. Because all of this is contained in one can, a person may think that they are having one drink when, in fact, they are having 6-along with a large dose of caffeine. This has caused students all over the U.S. to over drink because they are not aware of how much they are actually drinking. Four Loko has actually been labeled by the college community as a “blackout in a can.”

In November of 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) placed a ban on Four Loko and other drinks like it, deeming them unsafe and requiring them to be pulled off the shelves. Four Loko has since changed the recipe for their drinks, and they no longer contain caffeine and other stimulants.

The FDA ban on the sale of the original Four Loko was the first step in creating public awareness of the dangers of mixing energy drinks and alcohol. Despite the ruling that caffeine is an unsafe additive to alcoholic beverages, the message has not reached many people who continue to create their own energy drink cocktails. This poses a danger to the health of the individuals doing it, as well as to the people around them. While it will not be any time soon that energy drinks are pulled off the market, this problem can be addressed by people taking responsibility for their own actions and health by not combining alcohol and energy drinks.

More information is available through the non-profit Marin Institute’s website at They monitor and expose the alcohol industry’s harmful actions related to products, promotions and social influence, and support communities in their efforts to reject these damaging activities.

By Antony Thottukadavil