How early did you have your first experience with socially drinking alcohol? Were you under the legal drinking age? (I am guessing that I probably know the answer to that one.) Now that you are a parent and know the effects of drinking too much alcohol, where you stand on underage drinking when it comes to your own kids?
Last week I attended a webinar hosted by The Century Council and clinical psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Anthony E. Wolf about talking with kids about underage drinking. With April being Alcohol Awareness Month, this was the perfect time for a conversation about underage drinking and how we as parents can address this tricky topic with our kids.
Though experimenting with alcohol and underage drinking may seem harmless to some, according to the CDC, alcohol is the single most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States. Underage drinking results in more than 4,700 deaths each year. In 2010 alone, there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by people under age 21 related to alcohol use.
Though pretty much everyone is in agreement about the hazards of drinking and driving, a lot of how we as parents will approach the subject of underage drinking with our kids will be based on our own family history with alcohol, our kids’ individual personalities and our relationships with them. For example, families that experienced a serious alcohol dependency or other addictions are likely to address the topic from a very different perspective than other families.
Knowing the age when to talk can be determined by whether or not there are people in their lives that struggle with alcoholism. Regardless of a family history, by the time they are teenagers, kids should know the potential effects of drinking too much alcohol. Among other concerns, underage drinking can lead to impaired driving, increased risk for pregnancy or STD’s and increased risk of violent behavior. Additionally, when teenagers turn to drinking for fun, they often develop a pattern of not knowing how to find fun socially outside of drinking.
From my own experience I will be able to empathize with the feeling that if my kids choose not to drink they might feel like they are letting their friends down and it will change their friendships. It is a topic we discussed quite a bit with Dr. Wolf. This is a common fear people have when saying no to drinking, and we should recognize this is partly true. Typically what ends up happening is that when teenagers say no, they will rearrange their group of friends to people with similar values and end up with peers they are more comfortable around anyway. Also, if kids can confidently say no for themselves without making their friends feel self-conscious about their own decisions, most of the time peers will eventually stop pressuring them to drink. It is actually when the friends feel awkward that they might shut out your child, and helping your child to understand that may alleviate his or her discomfort with saying no.
When it comes to talking with your kids about underage drinking, Dr. Wolf said to make sure it is a two-way conversation. The single most common complaint kids have about their parents at that age is that they do not listen. Let your children talk too. Do not jump in while they are talking and do not try to correct or criticize their opinions. It’s not an argument, it’s a conversation; open up to a two-way conversation, listening when they do talk. If they shut you out when you address them directly, talk about kids in general rather than singling out your child.
Together you can role play ways for your child to say no when offered alcohol in a social setting. You can talk about how to approach a range of uncomfortable situations, from peer pressure to drunk driving. By doing so, not only will your child gain more confidence you are letting your child know that he or she can feel comfortable asking you questions or contacting you when faced with those situations.
Already I have a sneaking suspicion as to which of my children will be more likely to refrain from underage drinking (but be concerned about the peer pressure) and which one is more likely to give us a run for our money. Though the teenage years and discussions like these will be tricky, I am hopeful that keeping an open dialogue with my kids will have a positive impact on their decision-making with regards to underage drinking and so much more.
If you want to learn more about getting prepared to talk with your kid about underage drinking, go to The Century Council’s website for information. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter via #TalkEarly or by following @AskListenLearn.
Have you approached the subject of drinking under the age of 21 with your children yet?
Many thanks to The Motherhood and The Century Council for the opportunity to work on this sponsored post campaign. I am so proud to be a part of it!