As our kids get older and older, some of the conversations we have with them begin to morph into more serious ones. Recently I shared some tips on talking to your child about alcohol, and I wanted to share some lessons from our actual conversation with one of our kids! You may think that your kids are too little for this type of chat, but chances are they are not. My kids are 12, 10 and 8 and I too thought they were too young to talk about the dangers of alcohol, but I was wrong. Kids often know more than we think and it’s important to be ahead of the game with this, especially since often the difference in whether they make the right or wrong choices in life depend on whether or not they have conversations at home about the possible outcomes. Kids between the ages of 8 to 11 are most receptive to parents’ input, and most PA parents believe it’s their job to educate kids about alcohol- just like we do. The scary fact is that 1-in-3 kids have tried alcohol before age 8, and knowing that fact led me to begin to open the door to talks about the dangers and consequences of alcohol so that my kids wouldn’t be apart of that statistic.
One important fact to remember is that teaching a child to avoid underage drinking isn’t about having one “big talk.” It’s actually better to just start talking and 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- which was just what I did. I began to chat with my oldest on the way to soccer practice. Since my niece just got her driver’s license and my daughter is beginning to get excited about that time in her life (even though she is only 12), I made a connection between that and a news story I had seen about a local teen that died in an alcohol related car accident.
I asked her what she knew about the story, she explained to me what she had heard and we began to discuss about what it means to be a safe driver and a responsible teen. We talked about what sort of dangers and distractions are around for teens when they are driving (music, friends, phones) and I took that list and added “Well, what about alcohol?” We talked about peer pressure and how it’s so important to stand up and do what’s right for ourselves and our family rules. I also reminded her of our rule of a zero tolerance for underage drinking.
This part of our conversation led to us chatting about the difference between an adult having a drink and a teenager. I reminded her that adults can have drinks, as long as they are in moderation and explained to her that her father and I are always careful and safe if we are having a glass of wine or a beer, which means never, ever drinking and driving, or having more than we should. Parents can and should always serve as responsible role models for their children, using everyday opportunities and circumstances to discuss the risks and consequences of underage drinking. This was a tricky part of our talk, since it seems rather strange to be promoting a “do what I say, not as I do” sort of thing, but it’s important for kids to understand that it’s not. A glass of wine with dinner for Mom isn’t the same as a teenager having drinks at a party or getting in the car with someone that has. I explained how 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. She seemed to get that.
Then the hard question came: “Mom, did you ever have drink as a teenager?” I explained in my previous post how important it is to be honest, so I was. I told her that, yes, I did a few times. No, never too much, and no, NEVER behind a wheel of a car. I also was honest and said I really wished I hadn’t because it put a lot of potential things in my life at risk, like college, sports and my future family- and explained that I was lucky and didn’t have anything bad happen, but I was the rare one, and went on to explain about a few kid’s in my school that weren’t so lucky.
As we arrived at soccer I asked her if she had any more questions for me, and she said she didn’t, and I reminded her that I was always here to talk if she ever sees or hears of anything from kids at school. I explained about how proud we were of her and knew she’d always make responsible choices, and knew she’d come to me if she ever felt like she didn’t. Overall, this quick conversation was just the beginning of a long line of chats we will have to have about being safe in life and making good choices. While many parents think alcohol is the least of their worries with their kids, underage drinking – even just a sip or on special occasions – is illegal and often opens the door to other risky behaviors, so I was glad to open this line of communication with her at a young age.
When you are ready to talk with your kids, check out the new Know When. Know How. campaign for some strategies and more tips to help you remain 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 to talk with your kids about the dangers of alcohol? What tips would you add?
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.