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Speaking openly about alcohol and HIV

Health Point


April 28, 2011
Dear Jeff and Debra:

I am a single parent. My 14-year-old daughter and I have always talked openly about everything including alcohol, drugs and sex.

Recently, she admitted to drinking and says many of her friends are engaging in oral sex. While she denies being sexually active, I am not so na´ve as to think a girl drinking alcohol and hanging out with friends who are sexually active won't do something sooner or later.

I am worried boys will take advantage of her, but she tells me she can handle these situations. She is mature for her age, so maybe I shouldn't be concerned. Or should I?

-Trying to Be

a Good Mom

Dear Trying:

We've written several columns about why zero tolerance for alcohol is necessary for teenagers. Drinking at your daughter's age will physically change her brain, stunt her emotional and social development, hinder her ability to make good decisions, affect her memory and ability to learn and increase her risk of having unprotected sex and date rape. These are all reasons for concern.

A study in the journal, "Pediatrics," found one in five ninth graders admits to having oral sex and almost one-third say they plan on trying oral sex within the next six months. Teens also believe oral sex is less risky and more acceptable for their age group than intercourse.

Boys and girls voiced similar opinions about oral sex. In other studies, one out of four teens say that oral sex is "almost always" or "most of the time" part of a casual relationship. One out of five believe oral sex is safe sex.

One risky behavior leads to other. For example, youth who drink alcohol are more likely to become sexually active and less likely to practice safe sex. According to a government website, oral sex is replacing the "spin-the-bottle" games of yesteryear among children as young as 11 and 12 years old. Oral sex is reported to occur on school buses, during class, on playgrounds and at parties.

Research conducted at University of California, Los Angeles shows a correlation between drinking and increased risk of HIV through oral sex. The study found cells from the lining of the mouth, after being exposed to concentrations of alcohol similar to beer for 10 minutes were three to six times more susceptible to HIV infection than cells not exposed. It is apparent our children need further education about the dangers of HIV, since half of all new cases are among people less than 25 years old, and infection among teens is on the rise.

Children are at a higher risk of becoming sexually active if parents believe teenage sex is appropriate or inevitable and drinking is a normal teenage activity. When there is little parental monitoring, alcohol use and sexual behavior are more likely to occur. Other risk factors include having only one parent in the household, poor grades, dating someone two or more years older and working a paid job for more than 20 hours a week.

We suggest you make it very clear to your daughter you disapprove of teenage sex and alcohol use. Discuss the emotional and physical dangers of both and the realities of HIV.

Since you are a single parent, create daily family rituals to strengthen a sense of connection. One of the best ways is by eating dinner together every night and talking about your day in a meaningful way. Take walks or engage in a hobby you both enjoy. Ask your daughter for a commitment to abstain from alcohol, other drugs and sexual activity. It is advisable to restrict dating activities until age 16.

In addition, encourage her to get involved with group and extracurricular activities and finding friends not engaged in risky behaviors.

Jeff Jay and Debra Jay, of Grosse Pointe Farms, are professional interventionists and co- authors of "Love First," and Debra Jay is the author of "No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction."

Contact them at (313) 882-6921 or lovefirst.net.

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Jeff Jay and Debra Jay are the authors of "Love First: A New Approach to Intervention for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction," and Debra Jay is the author of "No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction." Jeff and Debra Jay are professional interventionists who live in Grosse Pointe Farms. They may be contacted with your questions at (313) 882-6921 or at lovefirst.net.
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