Another summer is quickly winding down and parents are getting swept up in the whirlwind of preparations on behalf of their kids.

Back to school shopping and planning can be hectic; yet it provides an opportunity to set expectations with your children about the upcoming school year while you have them as a captive audience. And, while difficult, there’s never been a better time to work in a conversation about the dangers of underage drinking.

What does underage drinking have to do with academic performance? A great deal.

Research has shown that teen brain development is adversely affected by alcohol, which could lead to poorer academic performance.

Parents may not know just how harmful alcohol consumption can be for their children’s safety, growth and development. There are, of course, the immediate and serious concerns; such as engaging in risky behavior that can lead to dangerous – and often deadly – consequences.

Over time, alcohol consumption can also lead to poor academic performance. The teen brain is still in development and highly susceptible to negative influences, like alcohol. According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol impairs development of portions of the teen brain that deal with emotion, memory, learning, motivation and judgment. Teens that drink can have problems learning, remembering what they learned, and have challenges with mobility and balance. What may seem like experimentation and fun and games now, can lead to serious consequences over time for our children.

The advent of new technology has allow researchers to examine the active and developing teen brain which has led to a better understanding of what actually happens during the ages of 12 and 20.

Research led by Susan Tapert of the University of California found that adolescents ages 12 to 18 who binge drink are more likely to do poorly in mathematics, engineering and subjects that require their focus for a sustained period of time. For some teens, the difference can be equated to a ten percent drop in academic performance – or the difference between getting an A or a B. Binge drinking is defined as drinking alcoholic beverages with the primary intention of becoming intoxicated, which typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men in the period of about two hours.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Texas is urging parents to talk with their children about the dangers of underage drinking before it’s too late.

The fact of the matter is that underage drinking is neither safe nor legal. In 2014 in Texas alone, there were 1,949 drunk driving crashes involving underage drinking drivers ages 16 to 20 that led to 91 deaths and 222 serious injuries, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

And if you believe this is an issue that does not affect you, keep in mind that people who report having started drinking before the age of 14 are seven times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle crash due to alcohol later in life. Compounding the risk is the fact that 28.7 percent of Texas students in grades 9-12 say they have actually gotten in the car with someone who had been drinking.

Don’t miss this opportunity to help your child understand the consequences of underage drinking. At MADD, we encourage you to have these conversations early and often.

As parents and caregivers, we can make a difference. A MADD Texas survey found that 62 percent of Texas teens say their parents are the motivating factor for them not to drink. Moreover, teens whose parents deliver a clear message that alcohol is not acceptable before the age of 21 are 80 percent less likely to drink than teens whose parents are not as clear about the dangers of alcohol.

MADD offers parent resources to help them talk with children about alcohol. Our Power of Parents program provides intuitive, research-based tools parents can use to talk with their children about alcohol, including a new handbook specifically for parents of middle school aged children. It builds on MADD’s original Power of Parents handbook, which was developed for parents of high school students. Both are resources to use as children mature and face different pressures to drink and they are available free online at

Help your children to start the school year right with the most important tool they need – their brain. Talk with them today.

Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying this guest column was provided by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.