We often think about talking to teens about underage drinking, but a newly launched public service announcement campaign tells parents that it's best to tell their kids about the dangers of underage drinking as early as age 9.

The "Talk. They Hear You" campaign from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers parents advice on how to talk to their kids about underage drinking and prepare for tough questions like "Did you drink as a kid?"

Why talk to your kids about underage drinking? The health and safety risks include injury or death from accidents; unintended, unwanted, or unprotected sexual activity; mental health problems such as depression; and it could lead to drug use. More than a quarter of American youth drink alcohol, found the latest SAMHSA report.

With the summer months approaching, the rate of youth using alcohol for the first time doubles in the months of June and July.

"Research tells us that [9] is the best age for parents to start having conversations with their children about the dangers of underage drinking.  Studies show that parents have a significant influence on young people's decision to drink," said Frances M. Harding, director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

More than 80 percent of children say parents are the leading influencers in their decision to drink or not. Between the ages of 9 and 13, children start to think differently about alcohol.  Many children begin to think underage drinking is OK.  Some even start to experiment.  It is never too early to talk to your children about alcohol before peer pressure becomes even more influential, Harding said.

Almost 13 percent of 8th graders drank in the past 30 days and 4.4 percent of them had been drunk; 27.2 percent of 10th graders drank in the past month and 13.7 percent got drunk; and of 40 percent of 12th graders who reported drinking during the same period, 25 percent drank to intoxication, found the National Institute on Drug Abuse 2011 Monitoring the Future survey.

Should parents worry about that talking to their kids about underage drinking could lead to this behavior? Harding says no. Parents and caregivers are the primary influencers in preventing underage drinking.  When parents know about underage alcohol use, they can protect their children from many of the high-risk behaviors associated with it.  Parents who do not discourage underage drinking may have an indirect influence on young people's decision to drink, she said. 

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