6 Tips For Talking To Kids About Alcohol
Waiting until your child is in high school to talk about underage drinking could be a big mistake. Research shows that alcohol use and experimentation can start as early as age 10. There is no better time than now to start the conversation, but the key to discussing underage drinking is to start early, stay engaged and stick with it. The following statistics show the need for early intervention:
- Children who begin drinking at age 13 have a 45% greater chance of becoming alcohol dependent as an adult.
- On average, kids in the United States start drinking alcohol at 13 years old.
- Half of all cases of substance use disorders begin at the age of 14 and over 90% of substance abuse behavior starts with alcohol.
Reducing the trends of underage drinking is not easy and requires the efforts of parents, schools and communities. We can be successful when we work together to create safe environments – at home and in the community – for our children to strive and thrive.
Don’t think your kid will listen to you? Talk to them anyways. Despite the fact that many parents think their kids don’t listen to them, parental disapproval is still the number one reason kids choose not to drink alcohol.
Here are 6 tips for talking to kids about alcohol:
1. EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE DANGERS OF UNDERAGE DRINKING
Some parents don’t understand why the legal drinking age is 21 – telling their kids, “you can’t do it because it’s illegal,” or “you could get in a car accident and kill yourself or someone else.” While these statements are both true, there’s more…
Research shows us that brains don’t finish developing until the mid-twenties. Drinking alcohol before this time can have severe, long-term consequences. Consuming alcohol at an earlier age interferes with early adult brain development. The potential for serious problems such as alcohol addiction, dangerous behavior, reduced decision-making ability, memory loss, depression, violence and suicide is greater. Other potential risks of underage drinking include risky sexual behavior, increased risk for physical and sexual assault, unintentional accidents and even death.
When teens drink, they are typically binge drinking 90 percent of the time. While binge drinking, teens are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, are at an increased risk for physical and sexual assault, are most likely to use an illicit drug and can suffer from alcohol poisoning.
Armed with this knowledge, parents are better prepared to have a more accurate and informed conversation with their children about the risks of underage drinking.
2. START SOONER RATHER THAN LATER
Waiting until children are 14 to 19 years old to start a conversation about the dangers and effects of underage drinking is a common mistake. Children are exposed, aware and start to think about alcohol between ages 9 and 13. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends talking to children about the dangers of alcohol as early as 9 years old.
3. HAVE ONGOING, AGE APPROPRIATE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ALCOHOL
It is important to engage in conversation with your child at their level of understanding. You wouldn’t discuss the inner workings of an internal combustion engine when an 8 year old asks how a car moves. Keep it simple and on their level.
For an 8-year-old, simply explain that their brain is still growing and drinking alcohol could really hurt the way their brain grows. Tell them that you want them to grow to be super smart and in order to do that, their brain needs to grow strong.
For a 15-year-old, you could talk about the disruption in brain development, as well as the potential for chronic problems such as greater risk for alcohol addiction, dangerous behavior, poor decision-making ability, memory loss, depression, violence and elevated suicide risk.
Find ways to talk to your kids about alcohol without interrogating them or making them feel like you don’t trust them. For example, you can ask your kids what they hear at school about alcohol or if any of their friends drink or talk about drinking at parties. If you’re watching television or a movie and underage or irresponsible drinking is shown, use that as a conversation starter by asking your kids what they think about it. If what’s shown is an unhealthy drinking behavior, take the opportunity to explain how the behavior is unhealthy and what the risks are.
Make sure your children know that they can feel comfortable in talking to you about any questions or concerns they have about drugs and alcohol.
4. RULES AND EXPECTATIONS
When you set clear rules and expectations, kids are much less likely to drink. Children are 80% less likely to drink alcohol or do drugs when it is made clear by their parents that alcohol and drug use in not allowed. Explain to them that you can and will have them tested for alcohol or drug use at any time if you suspect that they may be drinking or using.
Talk about the consequences of drug and alcohol use – not only the consequences in your home, but also about the legal and medical consequences that can occur such as being arrested or hospitalized. Be clear about what you will do if the rules are broken and more importantly, follow through on these consequences.
Vague or general statements like, “I will kill you if I catch you drinking!” just don’t work. Clearly defined consequences have a much greater impact. Examples include removal from special or extra curricular activities, taking away privileges such as computer or cell phone use, or requiring them to attend substance abuse counseling or group sessions.
5. TEACH THEM HOW TO SAY NO
Children who are taught how to say no are less likely to experiment with alcohol or drugs. Come up with good ways to say “no” and practice them in role-play situations.
For example, they could say “Oh there’s no way I can drink that. If my parents smell booze on me, I’ll be dead.” Or “No thanks man. I have practice tomorrow and you know how coach is if he finds out we’ve been drinking.”
6. TALK ABOUT FAMILY HISTORY
Research has shown that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a chronic, progressive disease that can be linked to family history and genetics. If you have a family history of problems with alcohol or drugs, be truthful about it, as you would any other chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer. It is important for your child to grow up knowing if there is a potential for addictive behaviors due to family health history.