Did you know that it’s recommended a parent starts talking with their child about alcohol and underage drinking at age 9?
Talking to my tweens and teens about alcohol is pretty high on my to-do list of challenging topics parents to broach with children. Coupled with all the typical reasons a parent wants to talk to their children about underage drinking and alcohol, alcohol abuse is in their DNA. My father, their grandfather, died an alcoholic. For my older children, their paternal grandfather and father had difficulties with alcohol.
I never want to see them go through that, so we talk about it, sometimes a lot.
Frank stories about riding in the car with a parent who is drunk to the point they are nodding off or are driving on the wrong side of the road and watching my father be abusive towards my mother because he was drunk on the way to my school open house. There are so many discussions about the difference in their DNA potentially making them more susceptible to not drinking when they are old enough, like the average responsible adult, and how they must be aware of that difference.
Thankfully, not everyone has the same dark history with alcohol, but it is still essential to open dialogue regarding alcohol and its dangers with our tweens and teens.
Here’s a shortlist that has gotten me through some of the more in-depth conversations with my kids:
- Ask them their thoughts AND pay attention. Sometimes we get so busy we don’t listen to our children, and it is the most important thing we can do, especially as they approach adulthood. Ask them about alcohol and their views on it. If your child expresses interest in drinking, ask their reasoning why.
- Don’t be afraid, to be honest. My kids know that when we talk to them about drinking and underage drinking, I’m not preaching without offering my own stories and experiences.
- Talk about all the reasons not to drink, especially as a minor. It can inhibit a growing brain, cause school problems, alcohol-related fatalities (motor vehicle and loss of inhibitions against risky behavior), and alcoholism top the list for us.
- Plan how to help your child. Talk to them about how to stand up to peer pressure. Discuss what things you will do as a parent that will help keep them safe, like insisting on knowing their plans and activities, who their friends are, and being firm in establishing a set of rules and consequences that they must follow.
Finally, while alcoholism has genetic factors, there is no test for an ‘alcoholism gene.’ It is never too early to talk to your children about underage drinking, alcohol, and in our case, the genetic factors that should always be acknowledged, just as we do with the rest of our medical history.
As parents, we like to protect and keep our children safe, insulating them from things that may harm them, but some real-world tools in their toolbox are needed as they age.
Want more information or help?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services provides information on talking to your children about alcohol use and abuse. If you have a loved one who suffers from alcoholism and would like help or support, please check out Al-Anon, where you can find support for the families and friends of alcoholics.