Are Your Kids Ready to Talk About Underage Drinking?
It seems that just yesterday I was writing about diapers and baby carriers, and now here I am discussing underage drinking and how to stress the importance of responsible behavior with my kids. It might seem early, but believe it or not, research shows that 1 in 3 kids have tried alcohol before age 8, and 7 out of 10 parents don’t keep their alcohol secure.
Pretty sobering, isn’t it? Especially when you look at those little faces.
Thanks to my partnership with the Know When. Know How. Campaign I know that my oldest is right at the perfect age to start the conversation about the risks of underage drinking. Their research shows that kids ages 8–11 are most receptive to parents’ input, and most Pennsylvania parents believe it’s their job to educate kids about alcohol. (You can count me among them.) Therefore, discussions about alcohol should start early and often – around 3rd or 4th grade. While that might feel a little bit intimidating, I’ve got a few talking tips on how to break the ice and keep the conversation flowing.
Here’s an example of a conversation with my 8-year-old, just to test the waters:
Hey buddy, what do you know about drugs and alcohol? Have you learned much in school?
“They’re not good for you and they can make you feel funny or cause your lungs to clog up and you can die.”
What about, like, a beer?
“That doesn’t do much bad stuff.” (Bingo! And there we have it, folks. Alcohol seems less dangerous, probably because we have it in the fridge.)
Clearly, he’s not at the point yet where he understands what drugs and alcohol do, but this gave us a great segue into how the glass of wine Mommy might have while watching a movie at home is very different than having wine before driving. And, how your brain needs to be fully grown before you drink any alcohol because underage drinking carries serious risks that can negatively impact a child’s development, cause nerve cell and brain damage, preclude participation in sports and activities, and significantly increase risks for alcoholism and other abuse disorders later in life.
My final question: What if anyone ever asks if you want alcohol?
“I would say, “no.” I don’t want anything that’s bad for my body.”
At this point, I know he means it. But he’s 8, and “bad for my body” means one too many Smarties or donuts. It saddens me to think that the challenges are going to get so much harder, but I feel better knowing I have the tools to help and the Know When. Know How. Campaign for support if I have questions.
Talking Tips for Conversations that Matter
Tone is everything. Nobody likes to be accused or attacked, and that definitely applies to kids. Keep it easy and casual, conversational and even fun, and they won’t dread the next time you ask them to sit down and chat.
Open-ended is best. Asking questions that have more than a “yes/no” answer is a strong tool for developing conversation skills and establishing an open-door feeling between you and your kids. Let them talk. In fact, let them DUMP. If they do it now with the little stuff and it feels good, they’ll be more likely to do it when the heavier issues hit.
Start where they start. Does your school offer drug and alcohol education? If so, chances are your kids already have questions. If not, they still might have questions based on TV, other kids, or even your behavior. Ask questions about what they’ve already heard and seen, and how they feel about it. That will give you a good feel for where their heads are, and it will open the door for them to come to you later with more questions as they arise.
No scare tactics. Yes, underage drinking is terrifying. As parents, we dread the thought. But scaring your kids isn’t the best way to have a positive long-term impact on the decisions they make. Letting them know that making good decisions as a child is something that carries into adulthood, and that they have the power to choose the right path in all aspects of their life, including alcohol use. Talk to them about what they hope to do, what they hope to be, and keep it positive. Then stress how good decisions will help them get there.
Be What You Want Them to See
Parents are the ultimate role models for their children, so the best thing you can do is set a good example when it comes to alcohol. Little by little, one day at a time, use everyday opportunities and circumstances to discuss the risks and consequences of underage drinking. When we’re out at a restaurant, we always make sure that only one of us has a beer or glass of wine, with the other driving home. We could skip it altogether, but I think it’s a good opportunity to let the kids see responsible behavior around alcohol.
Learn more about how to head off underage drinking before it starts.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.