You are the MOST powerful influence on your child’s behavior. The chance that children will use alcohol increases as they get older. About 10% of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol, but that number jumps to 50% by age 15. The sooner you talk to your child about alcohol, the greater chance you have of influencing their decision not to drink.
The first step in talking about alcohol is simply getting started. The conversation often takes more than one sitting and evolves over time. As a parent, you must take active steps to start this conversation. Suggest to your teen that you would like to talk. Don’t expect your teen to agree. Many teens respond negatively. Questions that start “how”, “what”, and “why” can encourage an exchange of ideas:
- How do you think drinking helps or hurts your body?
- Why do you think some young people drink if they can get hurt?
- What problems can happen when young people choose to drink?
- Why do you think some people would start drinking before 21?
Getting your son or daughter to talk
Get into the habit of asking permission to ask the question. This will set the stage where you will work together to solve problems instead of the conversation being one-way. You might ask, for example, “Is it okay if I ask you one or two questions?” Respect how a teen may feel and do not force communication at a bad time. Try to pick a time when your child will be open to talking and talk about every day things that matter to your child. This makes the conversation flow more easily when it’s time to discuss “heavier” topics such as alcohol. Most importantly, suspend your critical judgement while you listen attentively.
Talking so kids will listen
- Listen. Allow your child to speak without interruption. Listen to what he or she says.
- Speak with respect and appreciation. Your child still values your approval.
- Communicate directly. Pick a time to speak when you can have each other’s undivided attention.
- Emphasize common goals. Remind your child that you are on their side.
- Avoid communication “stoppers”. These are single statements that shut down any response.
- Recognize conflict is natural. We all have different beliefs and values; therefore disagreement is a natural thing.
- Agree to step away. Agree to temporarily stop talking if things don’t go well.
- Use appropriate body language. How you position yourself physically while you talk can send important messages about your attitudes or express something you are not trying to convey.
- Avoid debate. If you find yourself debating, try suggesting that you both approach matters from a different single.
When speaking to your son or daughter about avoiding alcohol, emphasize the following reasons
- Underage drinking is illegal.
- Drinking can make you sick, pass out, or die.
- Drinking can lead to assault.
- Drinking can lead to early death.
- Drinking might lead to being an alcoholic.
The 5 conversation goals when talking to kids about alcohol
- Show you disapprove of underage drinking
- Show you care about your child’s happiness and well-being
- Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol
- Show you’re paying attention and you’ll notice if your child drinks
- Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking
Helping Teens Make Good Choices
The biggest reason why teens drink is peer pressure. A friend might directly suggest your child participate, or your teen might assume everyone else is doing it and that it’s an acceptable thing to do. Kids need ways to resist pressure. Before your teen experiences a circumstance that involves alcohol, help him or her prepare mentally and emotionally to respond. Role play scenarios that will help your teen practice refusing a drink. Exit strategies are also an important part of the practice. Preparing a “script” that is easy to remember and follow offers your teen the best chance at refusal success. Showing strength and resolve instead of uncertainty and nervousness takes practice. You can suggest they use simple “one-liners” that remove the pressure without making a big scene or issue about it. For example, your child could respond simply:
“It’s just not for me; it’s not what I want.”
“I don’t drink.”
Your child might also consider:
Offering an alternative, like “I’d rather have soda.”
Making an excuse, like “I have a test to study for tomorrow.”
Having an explanation , like “I really just don;t like the taste.”
Changing the subject
Friends are very important to kids, and it is important for adults to know who their kids are spending time with and what they are doing on a daily basis. You can also encourage your child to have healthy friendships and avoid risky situations by:
Monitoring social activities and supervise parties
Including friends you disapprove of in family activities to get to know the friend and share your family values. DON’T ban a friend.
Encourage your child to participate in activities when they can meet friends with appropriate values.
Discussing ways your child can resist peer pressure.
TIP: Use a code word for safety
Kids find it hard to resist peer pressure, especially in a group. They may be too young to jump in a car and drive away from risky situations that include alcohol, so prepare them with an emergency code-word. Choose and practice a code word that your son or daughter can text you or phone you to get a ride home, no questions asked.
Riding with an Impaired Driver
Discuss with your child the dangers of riding with anyone who may have had too much to drink.
Help them make a plan in case he or she experiences an unsafe situation.
Talk about alternatives, such as calling a parent or trusted adult for a ride home.
Remind your child that drinking coffee or other techniques for “sobering up” don’t actually work. He or she should not rely on these techniques to make a friend a safe non-drinking driver.
Kids who don’t consider all the consequences are more likely to ride with someone who has been drinking. Since kids pay most attention to short-term consequences, parents need to set clear no-alcohol use rules and enforce consequences.
Emphasize to your child how quickly drinking can lead to dangerous results and that’s why you take underage drinking so seriously.
Be ready to follow through and enforce consequences if your child violates a family agreement.
Impose a consequence if your teen violates an agreement
Impose a consequence consistently
Be very clear about no underage drinking
Base your actions on anger
Impose a consequence arbitrarily, in the heat of the moment