As a world champion gymnast, I’m all about momentum. It’s the force that propels me through a double layout full twist in the floor competition. Momentum is also what will keep underage drinking on its downward trend.
Since 2004, underage drinking has declined significantly. That’s more than a decade of steady progress on one of the most important health issues facing today’s youth—an achievement worthy of a gold medal in wellness. Trust me, though, to keep a winning streak alive, you can’t let up for an instant. You must sustain the effort and apply the lessons learned.
Through the years, we’ve learned a lot about what works in encouraging kids and young adults to say “yes” to a healthy lifestyle and “no” to underage drinking. Among the most important factors is information.
The media often cites my legs as the source of my strength, but I know that facts are my greatest source of power. I was fortunate to have parents who talked to me frankly about my life choices, from training options to the consequences of consuming alcohol at a young age.
As an athlete, I was motivated to do what’s best for my body. Reliable information fueled smart choices. In keeping up the momentum, parents should know they wield the most influence over their child’s decision to drink – or not to drink – alcohol. While I rolled my eyes on occasion (and still do, though less frequently), I really was listening when my parents talked to me about making smart choices.
That said, kids don’t need to be into sports to find compelling reasons to say “no.” Parents and teachers can help. For kindergartners, it can be as simple as telling them that alcohol isn’t safe at their age. For young adults, more details can foster good decision-making and help them identify strategies to cope when they feel pressure to drink, even when they don’t want to.
Whether it’s understanding the negative impacts of alcohol on brain development or realizing that taking a first drink before age 15 puts a child at increased risk for dependency later in life, having reliable information can help kids make the important choices they’re faced with every day.
It’s up to adults and role models to engage the young people in their lives in honest conversations about why kids and alcohol don’t mix. That may sound hard, but thanks to my work to prevent underage drinking, I’m finding out it doesn’t have to be.
Responsibility.org’s Ask, Listen, Learn: Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix program is a one-stop-shop for parents, teachers and kids. The resource helps parents and teachers start age-appropriate discussions with kids using animated videos, interactive games and activities that can help young people learn about the negative effects of underage drinking on a kid’s brain and body.
As important as parents and teachers will be in sustaining America’s gains against underage drinking, they can’t do it alone. Many vital awareness and prevention tools, programs, and research rely on federal support.
That’s my message on Capitol Hill this week. Our elected officials must know how important they are in reducing alcohol consumption by young people. It’s essential that they protect initiatives that have demonstrated success. Education efforts have already put millions of kids on a path to a healthy lifestyle. With continued support in Washington, we can reach millions more.
I’ll also be asking lawmakers to use their position to spread the word. Because everyone—whether a mom, a teacher, an Olympian, or a Senator—can be a force in the fight against underage drinking. And working as a team is the only way we’ll build on our momentum.