My kids are not babies anymore, and I often have to remind myself of that.
I started this blog way when Cora was 1, Owen was 3, and Maddy was 5. It’s nuts. Did I ever think I’d be writing a post about how to talk to kids about alcohol and underage drinking? Nope.
Back then I wrote regularly about ABC’s, 123’s, and fine motor skills. We focused on concepts of print, local business tours, standing up for themselves and the always important rest time.
Now, we’re still exploring ways of incorporating learning in our every day–it’s just that what once was a long day together is now a short time after school, evenings, and weekends. And you better believe I’m doing what I can to make the most of that precious time.
Because it goes by way too quickly.
In that short time we’re doing what we can to relax, have fun, learn a little, and cover some important concepts. Like bullying and tragedy and online safety and disaster.
And one area in which we have only scratched the surface on but that I recently learned that we need to cover early–and often? Alcohol and underage drinking.
Ugh. I know. Right? Aren’t they too young? Not really, no. We really should start now. Believe it.
Here’s the skinny. . .
- How to Talk to Kids about Alcohol and Underage Drinking: I have recently had the opportunity to participate with The Motherhood in a campaign where we had access to asking child psychologist Dr. Anthony Wolf questions about when and how to start this important discussion with our kids.
The information he provided was interesting and somewhat surprising.
Some important points from the Q & A:
- Q: Is there a particular age to start talking about drinking? Dr. Wolf: I’m a believer that as long as you’re not getting too heavy, I don’t think there is really a problem with talking about it with kids who are elementary school age.
- Q: Will saying no to drinking push all of my teenagers’ friends away? Dr. Wolf: This is a common fear people have when saying no to drinking, and we have to recognize this is partly true. But what will actually end up happening is that when teenagers say no, they will rearrange their group of friends to people with similar values and with peers they are more comfortable around anyway.
- Q: I knew a girl with parents who had a “no-questions asked” policy that meant if their kids ever were in a situation and needed a ride, they would provide it. Is this the best approach? Dr. Wolf: I like it. This probably saves kids in a lot of situations. It also gives the message that safety – including not drinking and driving – is such an important issue that the parents are willing to say, even if you are drinking, you won’t get in trouble for it, as long as you’re not driving.
- Q: What is the best way to discuss alcoholism with kids, and at what age? Dr. Wolf: It’s important to let kids know that there are people for whom drinking alcohol can be a serious problem, and too much of it can control their lives. You can get into the possible genetic factors too, if you want. But they should know [alcoholism is] less about whether it’s their fault or not and more that it is a serious problem out there.Knowing the age when to talk can be determined by whether or not there are people in their lives that struggle with alcoholism. Kids with an uncle who gets drunk every Thanksgiving and Christmas should probably be aware of it sooner than others. The bottom line is that, by the time they are teenagers, they should know the effects of alcoholism and that it’s a real thing. Certainly no later than 12-13 years old.
Here are some interesting and worthwhile facts from the discussion:
- When you, as a parent, communicate that you – the person who cares about and loves them more than anyone in the world – don’t want them to drink, that is powerful for your child.
- Parents need to be extremely aware of the dangers of underage drinking. Use resources like The Century Council’s website for information to be better prepared for kid’s questions.
- When having conversations with kids, make sure to get their full attention.
- Rise above the teenager’s attitude. Not picking up on the attitude shows that you love them beyond their attitude or grumpiness.
- Start the conversation in a straightforward way. Consider: “I want to talk to you about drinking.” Or “I’m worried about you and underage drinking.”
- Talk to the child in an adult manner. It’s an adult subject that should be approached accordingly.
- Remember it’s not an argument to win; it’s a conversation. Open up a two-way conversation, listening when kids do talk.
- Ask questions about their friends and alcohol. Examples: “What do you think are the risks of drinking?” or “Why do kids your age drink?”
- Don’t encourage kids to make excuses for not drinking, but instead teach them to firmly say NO to peers. The problem with blaming parents and making other excuses when asked to drink is that excuses won’t hold up over time. If kids can confidently say NO, most of the time peers will eventually stop pressuring them to drink.
the Ask, Listen, and Learn site is packed full of resources
Two really worthwhile resources to bookmark, explore, and revisit:
- the Century Council site
What have we done as a family so far in the way of having this discussion? Only what we believe is age-appropriate for our Maddy, Owen, and Cora and what has come up naturally. We’ve:
- made it clear that drinking alcohol is for adults and not children;
- explained that sometimes people drink too much alcohol, which impairs their decision-making.
Really, not a whole lot. But our kids are still young, and we’re doing this parenting thing for the first time. So we’re learning along the way.
My husband and I really enjoy a glass of wine or a drink together. We always have alcohol in the house and we get together with friends regularly. What does this mean? It’s all over as our kids move into the teen years? Nope. But we’ll move more consciously and keep all of these great resources on hand. For sure.
And what I know is that alcohol and underage drinking is a conversation that we will continue frequently and openly from here on out.
In fact, I’ll be tweeting with The Motherhood and The Century Council on Wednesday, April 17th, at 1 pm ET about how to continue the conversation with kids–when, how, and what to say. The hashtag will be #TalkEarly, and we’ll be covering it all.
fyi: This post is part of a sponsored campaign with The Motherhood and The Century Council. As always, opinions are all my own, influenced only by my three sweets and my experience as a parent and educator.