Alcohol use is common among teens. By age 15, a third of all teenagers have had at least one drink. By age 18, that number doubles. Teenagers who drink are at risk for many health risks and dangers. They can include binge drinking, memory and learning problems, long-term heart disease, injuries, violence, aggressive behavior, and property damage.
Discussing alcohol use with your teenagers is essential to helping them understand the risks they take when they drink. But talking to your kids about alcohol isn’t always easy. Here are six tips to help you talk to your kids about alcohol.
Although you might feel like you want to wait until your kids are a little older to talk to them about alcohol use, don’t! Start talking while they’re young. You have more influence on your kids’ drinking habits before they start drinking. Begin when your kids are eight or nine. Let them know what you think about underage drinking, what you expect, and how drinking might affect them. If you wait until your kid is a teenager, you’ve waited too long — by then your kids will form their own opinions about underage drinking. Waiting to discuss it means they’ll form their opinions without your input.
Discussing underage drinking with your child isn’t just a one-time event. You can’t expect to sit down and discuss teenage drinking once and have it stick with your kid. Keep things casual but discuss underage drinking anytime it comes up. Work it into conversations. But make it a no-pressure, ongoing conversation in your home.
Kids have questions; don’t put them off. If you do, your kids will go somewhere else to find those answers. They’ll also be less likely to ask you additional questions. Keep answers short, sweet, and age-appropriate. If you drink, be open about your drinking. It’s important to stress that drinking isn’t safe for kids.
One of the best ways for kids to learn is to role play. If your child is worried about how they’ll handle interactions with peers who are drinking, role playing can help. It’ll give them ready-to-use answers when they’re invited or pressured to drink by their peers. For example, “No thanks, my parents would ground me forever if they found out.” Or “No thanks, I want to keep a clear head tonight.” Role playing situations several times will prepare your kids to deal with drinking peer pressure.
Kids who have good relationships with their parents are less likely to drink. It’s easy to let your relationship with your child lapse as they become teenagers. But staying close will help protect them from alcohol abuse.
Everyone makes mistakes. Your teen may find themselves in a difficult situation. Or they may have a friend in a difficult situation. Decide early on that you’ll save your child from any situation, no questions asked. If they know they can call you when a situation turns ugly or dangerous, they will.
Talking to your kids about underage drinking is probably one of the last things you want to do. But starting the conversation early and keeping it up often is key to helping your kids choose not to drink until they’re older.