Mark, As a responsible, caring parent, I want my children to make responsible choices regarding alcohol use that are consistent with my beliefs and values. But it’s not a simple issue. We have alcohol in our home and with meals, but don’t want the kids to drink before they are adults. In the midst of these issues, our children see and hear numerous ads that promote alcohol. They may be curious, and—particularly as they grow older—face pressure from their peers to drink. How do you deal with this issue in a positive, healthy way? T. C.
By the time they graduate from high school, half of adolescents report consuming alcohol regularly. One-third report binge drinking. The greatest increase in alcohol usage occurs between grades 6 and 10. Good news: many young people do not consume alcohol. Fifty-five percent of middle and high school-aged students say that it is against their values to drink alcohol while they are adolescents.
Helping kids steer clear of alcohol involves more than simply warning them of the dangers (though that is important as well). It involves getting at the heart of asset-building to help them feel safe, supported, and free to talk about anything on their minds. And it involves building a strong relationship with your kids early and nurturing their personal values and skills to help them make smart decisions.
• Have a Plan — As your adolescent gains more independence, negotiate a plan for what you will do if he or she is in a difficult alcohol-related situation. Make safety a top priority. Make sure your youngster knows that you will provide a “no-questions-asked-until-later” ride home from any party at which they feel uncomfortable.
• Keep Your Youngster Involved — Being active in youth clubs, school activities, religious activities and other caring environments with adult role models offers important reinforcements for your positive messages at home.
• Monitor — Keep track of where your adolescents go and who they are with. If they go to a party, check in advance whether an adult will be actively present and whether alcohol will be available.
• Set Consequences — Be clear about any consequences of underage drinking before there is a problem. However, do not make the consequences so serious that your teen will not ask for help if they are in serious trouble or need a safe ride home.
• Be Honest — Be honest about your own alcohol use. If you drank as an adolescent, share why you believe it was a poor choice.
• Be Proactive — Do not just wait for your kids to bring up alcohol or drinking. Use news stories, ads, personal incidents, and other opportunities to raise the issue—before it becomes a crisis.
• Share What You Believe — Be clear about your values and expectations regarding alcohol use and why you hold those values and expectations.
• Talk — Maintain open and honest communication. Help your kids feel comfortable talking with you about important and difficult topics.
Think About Community—
• Connect — Talk with other moms & dads about your values and concerns. Discuss what you expect from your kids and encourage them to set boundaries with your kids when needed. If you are struggling with issues, ask them for advice and support.
• Do Not Be Part of the Problem — Never purchase alcohol for young people or provide alcohol to a party for adolescents, no matter what the occasion.
• Maintain Perspective — If your kids try alcohol, address the issue directly, but do not assume that they are “beyond hope.” Use it as an opportunity to help them learn from mistakes. However, if the problems persist or become more serious, seek professional support and help.
• Model — Model restraint in your own life. If you drink, use moderation. If you or your partner struggles with alcohol use, seek professional help.
• Teach — Help your kids develop skills to resist pressure to use alcohol. Do this by giving them opportunities to make decisions and be responsible, starting when they are very young. Role play with your youngster to teach them how they can say no along with other options they have when they’re under pressure.