When a teen or pre-teen goes to a friend’s house, you may ask whether there is unlocked alcohol in the home. Perhaps you ask your son or daughter, the friend, or the friend’s parents. Or maybe you think that your kid wouldn’t try alcohol anyway so there is no real reason for concern about underage drinking.
But what about when your elementary school aged child goes to a friend’s house? Have you ever asked then?
The Scary Truth About Underage Drinking Starting Earlier than Ever
Frankly, I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of it either, but the reality is that we should. Believe it or not, one-in-three kids has tried alcohol before age eight, and seven out of ten parents don’t keep their alcohol secure.
Fortunately, though underage drinking is a serious problem across the United States, research shows that 80% of children feel that their parents play a major role in their decision to drink or not. We parents can serve as responsible role models for our children by utilizing opportunities and circumstances to discuss the risks and consequences of underage drinking.
Now, you may be wondering how to talk about this topic when your kids already know that you drink alcohol on occasion, or have seen you doing so? Doesn’t that make us hypocrites?
It absolutely does not.
A few years ago, my husband and I built a bar in our home for entertaining guests. A bar, of course, that is stocked with alcohol. We’ve been of legal drinking age for longer than we weren’t, so we can do that. We’re not “regular” drinkers, so this has given us an opportunity to talk with our kids and to show them what responsible consumption looks like, so when they do reach the legal drinking age, they can do so responsibly. They’ve also been with us to weddings and other occasions when they clearly see my husband or I not drinking so that we can drive home safely.
However, before my older son reached an age where he could be left home alone, locks were promptly put on the alcohol cabinets. After all, we were young once too. There is no way that my older son or any of his pals are going to be drinking my alcohol at my home.
Our school has done an excellent job of talking about alcohol and drug use in health class, and in our case many of those conversations have made it home. It has been clearly brought to the students’ attention that teens who drink alcohol heavily are less likely to marry, go to college, work full time, or have stronger social economic potential. If they have goals for themselves in life, attaining those goals begins now.
What I didn’t realize, until now, is how early those conversations should begin. It has happened in our home somewhat organically, but there’s going to be another conversation, STAT. It has been found that among typical 4th graders, 10% have already had more than a sip of alcohol. And by the beginning of sixth grade, almost 30% of students say they have already tasted alcohol. While I was more focused on my older son, until now I hadn’t realized how young some alcohol use starts.
Yet studies also show that children who get a taste of their parents’ wine now and then may be more likely than their peers to start drinking by high school. Students who had “sipped” alcohol by sixth grade are five times more likely than their peers to have downed a full drink by the time they were in high school, and four times more likely to have binged or been drunk. Of course, there may be other factors involved too, but nonetheless, early consumption may not be the best idea.
In most cases, their parents provided the alcohol, often at a party or other special occasion. With the holiday party season recently passed, now is as good a time as any to have that discussion once again.
Here in Pennsylvania, the Know When. Know How. campaign is a statewide, research-based education and prevention effort targeted to Pennsylvania parents of children ages 8 through 12. The aim is to prevent underage drinking by providing information and tools for parents so they can engage their children in discussion before trial or use of alcohol even begins. It is built around positive and informative messages to help parents better understand the issues of underage drinking and the harm alcohol can cause. Learn more at KnowWhenKnowHow.org.
While many parents think alcohol is the least of their worries with their own kids, underage drinking, even just a sip or on special occasions, often opens the door to other risky behaviors. Let’s not forget that it is illegal too. Exposure is starting earlier and earlier. Even if you keep the alcohol in your own home secure, your kids’ friends may not have the same procedure in place at their home.
Alcohol education starts at home. Let’s talk to our kids about the harmful effects of underage drinking. It’s never too early to have the conversation. Go to http://clvr.li/palcknow for more information.
* I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
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