When Little Miss Techie was a first grader, her teacher emailed us about an assignment they had completed in class that involved creating a restaurant menu. “Pay close attention to the beverage list,” her teacher wrote, peaking my curiosity. When our daughter came home and proudly presented her class work, I had to laugh. Our very observant daughter had been reading menus and drink lists when we went out to eat and created a full menu that not only included the standard appetizers, salad, entrees, and desserts but also included “alkoholic beverages” consisting of Sierra Nevada, Bud Light, and red and white wines.
Just as we have ongoing conversations about online and mobile safety in our house, we also talk about alcohol in our home and when we go out to eat. We’ve offered our kids sips of our drinks just as my parents did when we were kids which have always been rejected with a yuck face. We don’t hide the fact that we enjoy an occasional beer or glass of wine with dinner but we do talk about the difference between safe consumption and the consequences of overindulging.
I recently participated in an information webinar sponsored by The Century Council about the topic of underage drinking where practicing child psychologist and author Dr. Anthony Wolf spoke about how to have conversations with their kids about underage drinking. One of the most interesting points that Dr. Wolf made was that even though kids may seem irritated by us and not seem to listen to what we’re saying, we have a great deal of influence over them. Parents have the power to stop underage drinking.
Dr. Wolf shared strategies for approaching this sometimes-hard-to-talk-about topic with kids. He said that it’s important for parents to not feel ambivalent about the conversation because when we don’t know all of the dangers and effects of drinking, we end up compromising their stance when talking to kids. We need to be aware of the dangers of underage drinking. For example, did you know that underage drinking goes beyond just drinking and driving? It can increase the risk for pregnancy, STDs, crime, violence, and more. Dr. Wolf also shared that when teenagers turn to drinking for fun, they develop a pattern and don’t know how to find fun outside of drinking.
In addition to Dr. Wolf’s helpful tips, resources from The Century Council’s website provides a wealth of information to be better prepared for your child’s questions. I love the many resources they have available such as a Parent’s Corner that prepares us for this conversation thanks to available statistics, information about how alcohol affects your body, age appropriate resources for parents of kids of varying ages, and information on binge drinking and drunk driving.
Here are five additional strategies for talking to kids about underage drinking from The Century Council:
1. When having important conversations with kids about topics like drinking, make sure to get their full attention.
- Don’t be afraid to ask teenagers to put down whatever they’re doing to talk.
- A good opportunity for conversation is in the car when driving or in the child’s room.
- Keep talking, even when it feels like you’re talking to zombie. Your words will stick with them.
2. Start the conversation in a straightforward way.
- It’s okay to simply say, “I want to talk to you about drinking.” Or “I’m worried about you and underage drinking.”
- Don’t talk to them in a “mommy voice,” but in an adult manner. It’s an adult subject that should be approached accordingly.
- Rise above the teenager’s attitude because giving attitude back to teenagers will only create more disrespect and back talk. Not picking up on the attitude also shows that you love them beyond their attitude or grumpiness.
- The number one complaint from kids is that parents don’t listen. If they start talking, Dr. Wolf says to “shut up” and let them talk.
- It’s not an argument, it’s a conversation; open up to a two-way conversation, listening when they do talk.
- Don’t criticize or correct kids when they’re talking since correction usually leads to immediate silence on their part. It also deters them from opening up in the future.
4. Ask questions to keep conversation going or to get them to open up.
- Instead of asking them to talk about themselves, have teenagers talk about their friends and alcohol.
- Examples: “What do you think are the risks of drinking?” or “Why do kids your age drink?”
5. Teach kids to confidently say no to drinking.
- Don’t encourage kids to make excuses for not drinking. The problem with blaming parents and other excuses when asked to drink is that they won’t hold up over time.
- If kids can confidently say no, most of the time peers will eventually stop pressuring them to drink.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to talk to your kids about the topic of underage drinking, join me, @AskListenLearn, and @theMotherhood for a Twitter party tomorrow— Wednesday, April 17 at 1 pm EST— for tips about talking to your kids about underage drinking. Follow #TalkEarly to follow the conversation.
I participated in a webinar with The Century Council as part of a compensated campaign with The Motherhood.