As your kids get older and more independent, it can be easy to think you don’t need to be as hands on with them as you were when they were babies and toddlers. They are often running around with their friends and staying busy with school, sports and are home less and less. It can be tempting to think that you don’t need to be involved as much, but in fact, the opposite is true. My kids are 12, 10 and 8 and I know that these ages are pivotal one in a child’s life where they are being exposed to all sorts of situations where they are forced to choose between making a right and wrong decision. Often the difference in whether they make the right or wrong choice depends on whether or not they have conversations at home about the possible outcomes. One major decision that kids have to make is whether or not to drink with their friends. This conversation can be a hard one for parents, but it’s imperative. These 5 tips for talking to your child about alcohol can help give you some tools to get this very important conversation started.
Starting a conversation like this needs to be done in every home, and at a much younger age than you’d probably expect. Did you know that according to research featured in the Journal of Adolescent Health, 37 percent of all children in the U.S. have already tried alcohol by age 8?! And by age 12 that number jumps to 66 percent. Scary, right? Knowing this data, it’s important to have the conversation about your family’s expectations on underage drinking at an early age. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has created the Know When. Know How. campaign, which is a statewide, research-based education and prevention effort targeted to Pennsylvania parents of children ages 8 through 12. The objective of the campaign is to prevent underage drinking by providing information and tools for parents so they can engage their children in discussion before trial or use of alcohol even begins.
Get the tone right
The first step to getting the tone right is to make it a conversation rather than a lecture. You don’t want to be yelling at your kids or preaching to them. Many kids will just shut you out right away if you take that approach. You really need to listen as much as you talk. This will encourage kids to pay attention and to open up too. It’s really important that you don’t come across as judgmental, critical or disapproving of what they say.
Get the timing right
Talking about important issues such as drinking alcohol needs to be done at the right time. Starting a discussion just as they’re going out the door to meet friends, before bed, or in the middle of an argument about other things can lead to conflict. You’re more likely to have a greater impact on your child’s decisions about drinking if you have a number of chats. Think of it as part of an on-going conversation. Also, it’s important not to wait too long to have this important talk. Remember earlier where I shared those scary stats? Unfortunately the initial conversation needs to happen at a younger age than you’d expect. Kids age 8 to 11 are most receptive to parents’ input so that’s a great time to start these conversations.
Choose conversational triggers
If they haven’t brought up the subject you could find a ‘hook’; a recent film or TV storyline, a celebrity scandal involving drinking, even stories about family or friends – simply ask “What do you think?” and follow on from what they say. Almost all (94 percent) of PA parents surveyed for this campaign said that it is their responsibility to have the conversation with their children and research shows that 80 percent of children feel that their parents play a major role in their decision to drink or not.
It’s important not to come across as hypocritical or get caught saying one thing and having done another but if you’re not honest they might not believe what you tell them. If your kids ask you some tough questions, it’s far better to confess, for example, that “yes, I drank at your age – and I wish I hadn’t”, rather than lie. If their questions get uncomfortable, say so. You should also use what you know about your child to craft your conversation. If your child is interested in science, share some of the facts on how alcohol can damage young bodies. If your child is interested in sports, explain how underage drinking can hurt their chances of being a great athlete. Children mature at different rates and you will be more successful in engaging your child if you use what makes your child unique.
Young people like to push boundaries and test rules. That’s part of being a kid. But the fact is that they feel safer if there are guidelines. Having clear rules and having consequences for breaking them is always important. Parents need to serve as responsible role models for their children, using everyday opportunities and circumstances to discuss the risks and consequences of underage drinking. Taking a zero-tolerance approach to underage drinking is key. Alcohol can be harmful to children and it is illegal for children under the age of 21 to drink it- and it’s important for kids to understand that.
It’s also important for parents to know their child’s friends and their parents. A child’s friends are an important part of his or her life. Parents need to get to know them. There are many ways these friends can be a positive or negative influence. Do they try to get the child to do things he or she would normally not do? Does the parent know if their child’s friend has tried alcohol, or have older brothers or sisters who drink underage? Knowing these things can help to keep your child safe.
Teaching a child to avoid underage drinking isn’t about having one “big talk.” It’s actually better to just start talking … have multiple, shorter conversations over an extended period of time, adding topics as they grow up. You can easily turn everyday situations into teachable moments. Teachable moments aren’t something parents need to schedule, they are opportunities parents can find during the course of a day that allow them to share the facts about alcohol with their child. Making the most of some one-on-one time with your kids to have these conversations can really make a difference in them making the right or wrong decisions later on in life. Parents should also serve as responsible role models for their children while using these everyday opportunities and circumstances to discuss the serious risks and consequences of underage drinking.
Ready to arm yourself with more tools? Check out the new Know When. Know How. campaign. It is focused on the behaviors and mindsets in kids and that need to change to prevent underage drinking. It has been built around positive and informative messages that can help parents better understand the issues of underage drinking and the harm alcohol can cause. Learn more at KnowWhenKnowHow.org.
Have you had a conversation with your child about underage drinking? Share some tips below!
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.