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Sitting cross-legged by the fire with a warm cup of hot cocoa, being surrounded by family and friends’ laughter, or ice skating around in circles at a local pond; these are just a few ways students will spend their winter break this year.

Unfortunately, underage drinking may also fall on that list of activities.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), extended time off over the holidays may lead to more adolescents trying alcohol for the first time. More than 11,000 youth aged 12-17 will try alcohol for the first time on a regular December, June or July day compared to 5,000 to 8,000 on any average day during the rest of the year.

This may be due to boredom, pressure from peers or just due to alcohol being so widely used during winter and summer celebrations.

The most recent Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) demonstrates that teens with strong family and community bonds are less likely to engage in substance use and other risky behaviors. These teens tend to choose positive friendships and are more disapproving of drinking and drug use by their peers.

As a teen myself, and someone who is committed to making healthy choices, there are many safe and fun ways that my peers and I can fill our time around the holidays.

My personal favorite is going to the various holiday lights displays in our region. There are many venues held at both commercial sites, who charge admission, and those that are free, such as the Christmas Trail at Little Buffalo State Park. Last year I went to Koziar’s Christmas Village, which is rated as the one of the Top 10 Travel Attractions in Pennsylvania, and had a spectacular time.

For the more active youths, there is bowling and ice skating, both indoor and outside. If the weather cooperates, the more adventurous among us may want to try skiing, snowboarding or tubing at our local ski area, Ski Roundtop.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money or need expensive equipment to have fun. Host an ugly sweater party or game night at your home. Watch movies with friends and family or indulge in your best binge-watching guilty pleasure on TV. Bake cookies, decorate your home and invite your closest friends over.

Stepping outside we have a multitude of places to hike, bike or get together with friends for a brisk game of football or basketball. The Partnership for Better Health has a great downloadable guide, Simply Moving, that provides information on local parks, trails and recreational facilities.

There is no lack of fun and entertaining ways for teens to occupy the upcoming vacation without underage drinking, drug use or other risky behaviors. Build new lasting memories with friends and loved ones and enjoy your holidays the right way.

Lindsey Grubb is a senior at East Pennsboro Area Senior High School and a member of the Cumberland County Youth Advisory Board, which is affiliated with the Cumberland-Perry Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.


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