In my household, and many like ours, there is constantly a game on television. From the NFL to college football, to professional hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis, and more – we are always watching sports. And with that comes exposure to alcohol advertising. The commercials that always make it seem as if life is more exciting with a beer in hand. Even when we attend sporting events, there’s always beer being sold in the aisles or at the nearest concession stand.
As a parent, this concerns me because I clearly don’t want my son falling prey to the propaganda. That could result in getting an early start on alcohol use, which is an illegal activity, and one that could easily become a habit. Not to mention that early alcohol use can significantly increase the risk of alcoholism and other abuse disorders later in life.
As a health coach, there are other reasons to be concerned. Underage drinking can cause nerve cell and brain damage, which can harm academic success and impede participation in sports and other activities.
There are no warning signs when your child goes down that road until it’s too late.
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. So last week I spoke to my 11-year-old about the risks and consequences of underage drinking.
First, I asked him if he knew of any other kids his age who are already using alcohol. Luckily, the answer was no. He seemed fairly surprised at the question, to be honest. I took that as a good sign that trying alcohol didn’t interest him. Nonetheless, we discussed the risks of underage drinking, and while he didn’t ask too many questions, he listened intently for a while. Then I sent him on his way and he headed out to play in the snow. Those types of conversations sometimes work best in small doses, and it seemed like this was one of those times.
During our conversation, I reminded him that while my husband and I do drink socially, we do so responsibly. And then I added that we’ve been of legal age to drink for a couple of decades now.
Later in the day my son came back to say that he remembered one of his friends having once mentioned tasting his dad’s beer. That remark let me know he had been thinking more about our conversation. It was a good sign. I reminded him about our zero tolerance policy and sent him on his way again.
He’s seen us have a glass of wine now and then, and he’s seen us socialize with friends with alcohol. Continuing to give both my kids (my 11-year-old as well as my older son) clear, consistent messages about responsible drinking at the appropriate age will help to ensure that they don’t misinterpret my words in such a way that makes us seem like hypocrites. Only with trust and open conversation will we all stay on the right path, I think.
That, and making sure they can’t get a hold of any alcohol kept in the house, of course. Research shows that 7 out of 10 parents in Pennsylvania don’t keep their alcohol secure, and that is 7 out of 10 too many.
That friend who had tasted his father’s beer? He’s not alone. Many parents believe that letting young children taste alcohol may discourage them from drinking in adolescence, or that not allowing children to taste alcohol will only make it more appealing. Unfortunately, these assumptions have proven incorrect, as early introduction to alcohol is a primary risk factor for problem drinking during adolescence.
The Know When. Know How. campaign is a research-based education and prevention effort targeted to parents of children ages 8 through 12 in Pennsylvania, my home state. The objective of the campaign 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 has been built around positive and informative messages to help parents better understand the issues of underage drinking and the harm alcohol can cause. The campaign website can be found at KnowWhenKnowHow.org.
Together we can keep our kids out of the danger zone.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.