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Kids & Alcohol - Part 1

November 01, 2012

Most 6-year-olds know that alcohol is for adults only. But once they hit the tween years (9 to 12) and beyond, many are willing to give it a try. That's why it's never too early to talk with youngsters about the dangers of underage drinking. (Studies show that teens say they rely on adults in their lives to help them make tough decisions. That's our cue to step in.)

Find multiple opportunities, woven into casual conversations, to let your kids know that early alcohol use can:

  • Harm the brain's development, and the ability to think clearly.
  • Cause lasting damage to the liver and heart.
  • Increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression.*
  • Increase the likelihood of being involved in physical violence or auto accidents.**
  • Increase the risk of developing alcoholism as an adult, and experimenting with drugs as a youngster.

During your conversations, listen with an open mind to what they say. Be curious about their ideas. Say "Tell me more" before you offer a rebuttal to something you hear that you don't like. You want to get them talking, sharing all their many thoughts on this challenging topic; you need to know what's in their minds if you're going to be able to respond meaningfully.

If your child says that weekend drinking in high school is normal and that everyone does it, you can say: "I know that it seems like everyone at school is drinking on the weekends and that you'll feel left out. Or that you need to drink to be accepted. Nevertheless, my expectation is that you will not drink. You will be surprised at how accepting your peers will be if you demonstrate an ability to think and act for yourself."

Make clear, many times and over many conversations, that your expectation is that they will not drink. Walk the talk by not leaving them and their friends alone in the house with access to alcohol. Don't offer them a drink at your family dinner table. Resist the temptation to extend them wiggle room around this ("...okay, one drink only"). Remember that you aren't your kids' friend, trying to earn likeability points. Let them be angry with you if they must. The firmer your stand, the less confident they might feel about giving alcohol a try, and that might slow them down (or prevent them from drinking in the first place).

Be clear about consequences if they do drink, consequences tailored to what you know they value. For example, if driving is important to your teen, determine what amount of driving would be curtailed for each infraction. Cell phones can be temporarily shut down; curfews can be imposed. Discuss consequences as a family now, before a first infraction.

Finally, discuss laws about underage drinking (illegal for anyone under the age of 21) and arm yourself with specific knowledge about the consequences their school levies when students are caught drinking on campus or at school activities (football games, dances, etc.)

Don't soft-peddle the message. The stakes are too high.

References & Citations

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