April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and a lot can be shared with teens about the negative side effects underage drinking can have on youths. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), alcohol usage by youths “is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex, and other problem behaviors, even for those who may never develop a dependence or addiction.” The NCADD also shares that “more than 23 million people over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol and other drugs affecting millions more people – parents, family members, friends, and neighbors.” Research has shown that teens who have open conversations with their parents about alcohol and drugs are 50% less likely to use versus teens who do not have these conversations with their parents. These statistics alone are proof enough that parents, as well as educators, librarians, etc. should be bringing these conversations and issues to light.

Although the idea of teens using alcohol and drugs is daunting, there are a lot of ways that librarians can bring facts and information to their teen customers. Sometimes teens don’t want to listen to what their parents have to say, but librarians can do a lot to get these facts out. One thing librarians could do is to have a teen council, or program, where the idea of alcohol awareness is shared. Librarians can even present a quiz the NCADD developed for teens to see if they have alcohol issues. The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (NIDA for Teens) has a few free, online games that explore what happens to the brain and body when drugs and alcohol are used.

NIDA for Teens has a teacher section full of lesson plans and activities that could be used in a library setting; it would be a great outreach program for library staff to present in their local schools. The Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking (ICCPUD)  has an interactive map for you to share your state’s video on preventing underage drinking with teens. These videos could be shared if a library has a TV or computer screen available; staff could have it on continuous play for customers to watch when they are in the library. Another great resource is The Cool Spot, which is a website run by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The Cool Spot has information for teens about peer pressure, facts about alcohol, the right to resist pressure about alcohol, and more. One last resource that is great to share in teen programs is an interactive body presented by NIAAA. Teens can click on a part of the body and it shares how alcohol affects that part of the body.

Of course, one of my favorite thing to do when it comes to difficult subjects and presenting them to teens, is making a display. Displays are a great way to share books, local services, and more information with teens, and not having it in a program setting. Sometimes, at my library branch, it is hard to get teens to come to programs that are more obvious as being educational. But a display shares information in an unobtrusive way for teens. So, if they don’t feel comfortable coming to a program, they can easily grab an information sheet; a display is a great way for parents to get information as well. For example, the National Institute of Health has a great infographic that would be perfect for a display.

All in all, as library staff, it is important that we be vigilant when helping our teens learn about things that can harm them, and underage drinking can be extremely detrimental to their health. As librarians, we are able to present ourselves to teens from outside a classroom or home setting, in a neutral zone, where we can share information as an equal. By introducing tough topics to teens, even in the slightest way, we are starting conversations with them to let them learn something they may not know. Library staff can also be a safe, neutral person for teens to reach out to. Libraries are founded on the idea that we share information and do not judge the community for what they request. By introducing alcohol abuse to teens, we may, in turn, be helping a teen in need, who didn’t know where to seek information or help.

About Maeve Dodds

Maeve is a Teen Lead Librarian for Charlotte Mecklenburg County, University City Branch, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has worked in adult and children services, and was previously an elementary school media specialist. She likes reading in her hammock and trying new foods.

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