There are so many books for parents-to-be to help them prepare for their new roles as mom and dad but what those books don’t tell them is that the tough stuff comes much later. As hard as it is to be sleep deprived and constantly having to adapt to every changing age and stage that your baby is going through, parents of older kids know that a full night’s sleep is required in order to tackle topics like bullying, school safety and shootings, friendship issues, why it’s important to be kind even when your friends seem to forget, self confidence, digital safety, sex, and underage drinking.
Even though I devoured those parenting books when I was pregnant with Emily, they failed to inform me that:
- These topics come up when they’re least expected
- They test our ability to turn age appropriate conversations with our elementary, tween, and teenager into teachable moments
- The first time your child mentions any of these topics won’t be the last. It’s just the beginning of a lifetime of conversations you’ll have with your kids
- It’s my parental responsibility to have a conversation about the tough and uncomfortable issues with my kids. Rather than relying on someone else to do it at a time when it may or may not be right for my family, it’s important to take charge and provide kids with the information they need when they’re ready. This also helps prevent them from getting misinformation from unreliable sources (aka the friend grapevine).
Seizing on teachable moments to have age appropriate conversations is something that I did with my students as a classroom teacher so this came naturally with me as I started to work with Responsibility.org (formerly The Century Council), to talk about underage drinking. For the past 25 years Responsibility.org has been the leading force in fighting against drunk driving and underage drinking.
How Responsibility #StartsWithMe
Since April is Alcohol Responsibility Month, Responsibility.org is encouraging us to think about our responsibility as parents as part of their Responsibility Starts with Me campaign. Even though kids are influenced by friends, teachers, celebrities, pop culture, and more, Responsbility.org has found that parents are the leading influence on children’s decisions to drink – or not to drink – alcohol. Over the last 10 years, 62% more kids reported talking with their parents about underage drinking.
In honor of Alcohol Responsibility Month, Thomas, Emily, and I sat down to talk about what responsibility means to us to show you how it begins with each and every one of us, regardless of our age and stage in life.
Three years ago I joined Responsibliity.org as a #TalkEarly ambassador to share the kinds of conversations I was having with my kids about the topics of underage drinking. Since then my role has evolved from writing about my parent experience to developing materials teachers use to educate students about the effects of alcohol on growing brains, training teachers in the Caribbean as part of a World Health Organization initiative to educate about the effects of underage drinking, and and advising on the development educational programs as a member of the Educational Advisory Board. Regardless of whether I’m talking to my kids or developing lessons that are used in schools across the country or around the world, I know that responsibility #StartsWithMe. My responsibility as a parent is to have ongoing conversations about the effects that alcohol has on young minds and bodies in the hopes that when it comes time, Thomas and Emily make good choices for themselves. I hope that they will serve as positive influences for their friends instead of contributing to peer pressure to drink before the age of 21.
Since it is Alcohol Responsibility Month, I hope you will take some time to talk about alcohol with your kids and teens. It’s also important to examine your own drinking habits and attitudes about alcohol so you can be sure you’re modeling the kinds of behavior you expect from your own children.
I am compensated for my work with the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility as a member of the Educational Advisory Board and Education Program Amplifier but this post and video was created separately from my paid work because I believe in the importance of sharing the #StartswithMe campaign. All opinions are my own.