Do you remember the first time you tried an alcoholic beverage? Think about how old you were – perhaps it wasn’t until you were 21 or maybe it was much younger, like in your teens or pre-teens part of life. Seems the age at which our kids experiment with alcohol is getting younger and younger these days so it’s definitely a topic parents shouldn’t brush under the rug. Kids in their teens may not be the best at listening to mom and dad’s advice all the time, but the consequences of underage drinking should be reason enough to make it happen! Kids are already exposed to more adult material on television and on the internet, so being proactive parents can help encourage your teen to make responsible decisions when faced with underage drinking. Sure it can seem like a difficult subject to approach but it doesn’t have to be. The Children’s Wellness Center pediatricians get it – we’ve all had our own experiences when we were younger and we have worked with a lot of parents and their teens to encourage a healthy dialogue about alcohol. Check out our tips for talking to your teen about drinking and ways to inspire them to think before they act:
- Block off some time – talking to your teen should feel relaxed and natural, not forced. As some of us may know, teens and preteens can have an uncanny ability to tune out parental advice if it feels too preachy. Make good use of one-on-one time, like during car rides or during meal prep, to open up the alcohol dialogue. To really be effective, don’t try to cram the subject into just one conversation but instead make it something that is discussed often so you can reaffirm your expectations of your teen when it comes to them potentially involving themselves in underage drinking.
- Use real life scenarios – you may notice that teen drinking related accidents tend to get a lot of media coverage and more parent advocates are speaking out on the dangers of teen drinking. Use these types of tragedies to lead into discussions with your teens about drinking. Be prepared, however, to discuss your own personal experience with alcohol should your teen have questions about your younger years. By sharing negative experiences that you went through, it will possibly resonate louder and better help illustrate the importance of making sound decisions themselves. Be candid about why you chose to drink, what the consequences were, and how your outlook may have changed after the experience.
- Spare no consequence – have you discussed the consequences your teen could face if they choose to drink? As a parent, it’s a good idea to spell out your expectations when it comes to your children and being in an environment where alcohol is present. Explain the loss of privileges to them as expected in your household and make sure they are clear on what will happen if they break your rules. If a situation arises where they are caught drinking, be sure to enforce your rules and consequences or your teen may not take your idle threats seriously in the future. Be sure to also not spare a mention of what could also happen outside of the home. Alcohol-related fatalities (whether from alcohol poisoning or drunk driving), increase in sexual activity that could lead to unprotected sex and potentially life-threatening illnesses or sexually transmitted diseases, stunted brain development, and potential for alcoholism concerns as they get older.
- Lead by example – just as a toddler is quick to mimic the behaviors and speech of adults from keen observation, teens are just as easily influenced by our actions as well. If you drink around your teens, do so in moderation and explain why and how it’s appropriate for adults to drink – as long as it’s responsibly. Staying healthy and promoting proper habits like diet, nutrition, and exercise can be complimentary to your efforts because you can interject talks of alcohol into these types of healthy habit lessons.
- Stay invested – the best way to stay informed with your child’s after school activity is by forming a strong relationship with them early on. If your child tends to keep to themselves you may not be aware of the stress or peer pressures they face on a daily basis and sometimes they may not want to share. Checking in frequently to see what’s going on with their friends, in school, and in their social life will encourage them to share anything and everything. They just want to feel like they’re supported and are able to live up to the expectations we have as parents. Getting to know your child’s friends and their parents can be helpful as well – if your teen’s friends are drinking, or live in a household where parents are more liberal in their views on underage drinking, there is a good chance your teen is more likely to drink (because hey, everyone’s doing it right?). Staying on top of their activities and knowing the type of supervision present can help mitigate them being in a situation that could put their wellbeing in jeopardy.
If you notice your teen’s behavior changing, like mood swings, inconsistent health complaints, or increased behavioral issues at home or at school, talk to them about what’s going on to try to get to the root of the issue. For teens that you suspect may have alcohol-related concerns, contact your pediatrician, counselor, or trusted healthcare provider who has worked with underage alcohol problems before it becomes a greater issue. Just remember, it’s never too late to start talking.