If you have a drink or two around your kids, you’re certainly not the only one. 78 percent of parents admit to having at least one or two drinks per week, and sometimes it’s the kids that cause us to search for something to take the edge off a bit. With that, don’t shame yourself over a glass of wine, but do know that open and honest dialogue about alcohol is a proven means to help your children avoid alcohol abuse and the lifetime of health issues that can come with binge drinking or blacking out.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, kids from households with authoritative parents tend to fare the best when it comes to avoiding alcohol issues. Here are some tips on how to talk to your kids about booze.
Authoritative parents are defined as those who exert high control and discipline, while still showing warmth, responsiveness, and understanding. Not to be confused with authoritarian parents who only possess the control and discipline, authoritative parents praise their children for good things and aim to help them when something is wrong. This open dialogue and stern-but-understanding approach helps avoid situations like mental anguish from authoritarian parents, or too much freedom from permissive and neglectful parents, both issues that can lead to alcoholism.
Communicate Early and Often
Many experts encourage talking to kids about alcohol even before their 10th birthdays. They also recommend talking about alcohol often.
According to Dr. Alyssa Lederer, Assistant Professor and Program Director in Health Education and Communication MPH Program at Tulane University, “alcohol use among young people is not uncommon and it can result in severe consequences. The good news is that parents can play a very important role in mitigating the negative outcomes alcohol may pose to their children. Parents can best support their kids by having open and honest conversations about alcohol with them.”
Waiting too long, experts say, allow kids to form their own opinions on alcohol, and given media depictions and peer pressure, it’s a no-brainer that mom and dad will paint a more honest picture. In a lot of cases, the kids will be the ones starting these conversations by asking, “What are you drinking,” or “Can I have sip?” Rather than play the Santa Clause card and make something up, start the conversation right then and there. It doesn’t have to be a planned out talk, and in tune with authoritative parenting, honesty and compassion will lead to better-accepted punishments if, indeed, they need to be handed down.
“Parents should be explicit about their family values and expectations around alcohol while also expressing compassion so that their children know they can depend on them for help if they ever need it. Parents should work towards having an ongoing dialogue rather than a one-time conversation. Asking children open-ended questions to better understand their perspectives and experiences should build trust and be helpful to the parent and child alike,” adds Dr. Lederer.
Understand your Child’s Social Influences
Drinking is largely encouraged through peer and social pressures. When kids see their friends partaking in an activity, they’ll want to join in as well. So it’s important to imagine yourself in their shoes and empathize with them during your conversation about drinking.
According to Dr. Mai-Ly Steers, assistant professor in the School of Nursing at Duquesne University, “peer influences are an extremely powerful force on teens’ drinking. Research has found that periods of major transition such as going from high school to college can leave teens especially vulnerable to peer pressure. As teens struggle to establish their separate identities, they turn from taking cues from their parents as to what is acceptable drinking behavior to their peers.”
How can parents give advice to teens on how to combat drinking pressures?
“If your teen is seeing people doing keg stands at a party, he or she may begin to think this behavior is normal. However, you should point out that their perceptions could be skewed. We naturally pay attention to more memorable, extreme drinking, even though most people aren’t engaging in this behavior. Additionally, there are plenty of people who might privately disapprove of and make judgments about the people who binge drink, even if they don’t make their opinions publicly known. Finally, inform your teen that most of their peers will stop pressuring them to drink if they are already holding one, whether it be alcoholic or not. If they choose to drink, ask them to keep track of the number of drinks they’re consuming,” adds Dr. Steers.
Talk to Other People as Well
Role-playing practices with other adults in your community who have children the same age can help prepare you for things that may not have been on your mind. If you suspect your child is drinking, but haven’t been able to have a breakthrough with admittance, you need to prepare yourself for possible scenarios and hear like minds’ thoughts. Hearing what 10 different parents would do if their child came home drunk is a great way to figure out what you would do ahead of the problem. Many other scenarios can be discussed, too.
Save Some Things, Though
Simple, round-about discussions are fine at any point in a youngster’s lifetime; mention how alcohol is only for adults; that it not okay to drink and drive; that alcohol shouldn’t be used in excess, etc. Some more serious conversations, however, should be kept for later: the health effects of long-term alcoholism; the increased probability of getting an STI or STD if you binge drink; the staggering rates of fatal accidents that involve alcohol. These topics certainly warrant discuss but you can and should wait until your children are older. Ultimately, honest talks about alcohol during youth will pave the way for much easier and more effective conversations regarding the more serious impacts of alcohol abuse.
Even to the point of adulthood, open dialogue—about alcohol and many other issues—is something most kids want to have with the people they trust the most. Hopefully, that is you, the parents, and if you start early with an honest conversation, punish fairly when mistakes are made (and provide reasoning as to why), and ultimately be there to help with any situation, you can set yourself up for a lifetime of constructive, problem-avoiding conversations with your kids.
This content is sponsored by Andrew Deen.
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