As we’re all too well aware, babies don’t come with a handbook. Most of us learn well enough as well go, though, and we level up pretty quickly. Diapers, teething, head bumps – I remember when I thought that was the hard stuff. Really, those early years were just the warm up for the real stuff that was waiting down the parenting pike. My son is now 8, and I’ve realized in recent months that I’m going to have to up my game if I want to stay ahead of potential problems as he gets older. Of course we can’t avoid them all, but when it comes to threats like underage drinking, strong research shows that there are very definite things we can do as parents to affect our children’s risk potential.
Prevent Underage Drinking One Day at a Time
I wouldn’t have believed it based on last night’s conversation about screen time, but kids age 8–11 are most receptive to parents’ input. That means any important lessons should start early, and often. But having that one “big talk” about underage drinking isn’t necessarily the best approach. Kids of that age have a short attention span, and benefit more from more frequent, longer-term conversations. Studies have long shown that one of the best ways to get kids to listen, share and feel is to gather around the table for regular family meals. If you can get them cooking, all the better!
In fact, in addition to having better eating habits and even better grades, kids who share consistent and regular family meals show a reduced risk of nicotine, marijuana, prescription drug and alcohol use. Don’t worry about heavy conversation every night. Talk about things like sports, activities, pets and friends, or things you achieved or learned that week. Just make sure you talk.
Because parents (or primary caregivers) are usually the strongest role models for children, one of the best things you can do is serve as a responsible (and realistic) role model for your children. Sounds obvious, right? Well, that doesn’t always mean just not letting your kids see you stumble. Using everyday opportunities and circumstances to discuss the risks and consequences of underage drinking. We’ve got personal stories about those who have been affected, and I have started telling my son about them. When we go out, there is never a time that both my husband and I have a drink. It’s one or the other, and it’s very minimal, so the kids don’t get confused. And joke as I might with my girlfriends about my love of wine, I don’t do that around my kids. They may see me sip on a glass responsibly, but they already know that being affected by alcohol is not something that’s funny.
One more measure you can take to keep kids safe is to limit the access to alcohol that might slip your mind. A survey conducted by The Know When. Know How. campaign showed that 1 in 3 kids have tried alcohol before age 8, and 7 out of 10 parents don’t keep their alcohol secure. Exposure and first experiences are starting earlier and earlier (with 1 in 3 kids having tried alcohol by age 8, according to research in the Journal of Adolescent Health), so lock those bottles up. I’m guilty of leaving ours unsecure, and of assuming our kids are too young to show any interest. But just think of some of the things your child comes up with, making you wonder, “How on earth did they think of that?” Their minds are running constantly, and they’re curious. It’s never too early to secure your alcohol, and it’s always smart to talk to the parents of friends to make sure they are, too.
So if that “big talk” is something that would make you feel more at ease, by all means, do it. But don’t forget that those day-to-day moments, no matter how small, really add up, too. As with almost everything parenting-related, consistency is key. To learn more about what Pennsylvania parents are saying about their kids and underage drinking, along with more helpful measures you can take, visit The Know When. Know How. campaign, a statewide, research-based education and prevention effort targeted to PA parents of children ages 8–12.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.