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Communication is the key to preventing alcohol abuse among teenagers, a panel of experts said Thursday.

Around 20 students, school staff and community members gathered for an evening town hall forum entitled "Start Talking, Before They Start Drinking" at Tennessee High School.

Many teens are exposed to the temptation of underage drinking at an early age, but there can been serious consequences, the experts said. According to a national statistics, 40 percent of eighth-graders have tried alcohol and one in four is a binge drinker.

Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition Coordinator Alice McCaffrey said the human brain does not fully develop until the age of 20 and alcohol abuse at an early age can cause long-term harm to brain development. She said parents should start talking with their children about the dangers of alcohol early. She also encouraged parents not to over-analyze the conversation but to just start talking to their children.

"Pick a question and begin that conversation," she said. "When you begin that conversation, don't lecture."

Robinson Middle School Counselor Ross Walker said teens are looking for guidance. While teens are in the process of growing up and parents have less and less influence on their lives over time, teens still want a parent who is involved in their lives. He said 74 percent of teens turn to their parents for advice.

Walker said the conversation about alcohol is easy to start around the dinner table.

"Family dinners are one of the healthiest things you can do," Walker said.

She said she has seen so many tragic cases where teenagers drank and someone got injured.

"In the last 24 years in the juvenile court, I have seen so many tragedies," McCoy said. "Your life can change in ten seconds."