This week is Red Ribbon Week, a week focused on prevention education activities that support a healthy lifestyle. It’s likely that Red Ribbon Week will be highlighted at your child’s school but it’s important to continue the underage drinking prevention conversations at home, especially since risky behaviors run together.
What is Prevention Education?
The goal of prevention education is to increase knowledge on the harm related to alcohol and to change attitudes about underage drinking. According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), schools are an important setting for interventions aimed at preventing alcohol use and abuse among adolescents. School-based interventions have been developed to prevent or delay the onset of alcohol use, most of which are targeted to middle-school students.
But learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s just as important to continue prevention education at home by empowering kids with knowledge about how alcohol affects their growing brains and bodies, teaching them the science behind the effect of alcohol on different parts of their brain, and having age appropriate conversations.
5 Ways to Teach Prevention Education at Home
Here are 5 things you can do to keep the prevention education conversations going at home during Red Ribbon Week and beyond.
Know How to Talk About Underage Drinking Prevention in an Age-Appropriate Way
Whether it’s your first time starting a conversation about prevention education or you’re revisiting it as your children have gotten older, each time you talk it opens important lines of communication and strengthens your relationship.
Data shows parents are the leading influences when it comes to kids making decisions whether or not to drink alcohol underage. Nearly 1-in-3 parents identified themselves as the leading influence in their child(ren)’s decision to drink alcohol or not. 33% of children identify their parents as the leading influence on their decision to drink or not drink alcohol, followed by best friends (25%), and social media (17%).
If you don’t feel prepared for a conversation about underage drinking prevention with your elementary aged child or how to keep the conversation going through middle and high school, I’m here to help! My post, Talking About Underage Drinking Prevention with Kids of All Ages, has tips for how to talk about it at every age and stage. Capitalize on curiosity when your elementary schooler asks about beer and be real with your high schooler about how consuming alcohol can derail the big goals they have for their future.
Check out the other posts I’ve written to help feel empowered as you teach prevention education at home:
- How to Teach Kids to Make Good Decisions in Tough Situations
- What Do You Do When Your Kids Ask for a Sip of Your Drink?
- Why It’s Important to #TalkEarly When a 9 Year Old Asks for a Beer
- What Parenting Books Don’t Tell You About Creating a Lifetime of Conversations with Your Kids
Teach Your Kids How Their Brain Works to Help Them Make Healthy Decisions
Since this year’s Red Ribbon Week theme is Be Kind to Your Mind, now is a great time to teach kids the science behind how substances like drugs and alcohol affect their developing brains and bodies. Ask, Listen, Learn’s free science and evidence-based underage drinking prevention materials teach kids as young as 9 about the different parts of the brain, what each does, what alcohol does it, and what it does to you. For the past 20 years, Ask, Listen, Learn has been encouraging kids to say “YES” to a healthy lifestyle and “NO” to underage drinking.
Here’s a look at the parts of the brain kids can learn about through Ask, Listen, Learn videos to learn what each does and how they’re affected by alcohol.
- The Cerebral Cortex– The cerebral cortex is the wrinkly outer layer of your brain. It’s divided into 4 sections that have to do with senses, movements, and thought processes. When affected by alcohol, it impairs one’s ability to think clearly, make decisions, and control movements.
- The Hypothalamus– The hypothalamus is an almond sized part located in the center of your brain that serves as a control center. When affected by alcohol, the hypothalamus causes hormones to get out of sync. Blood pressure, thirst, hunger, and the urge to urinate increase while body temperature and heart rate decrease.
- The Medulla– The medulla is a cone shaped center for nerve cells that sits inside your brain stem, is attached to your spinal cord, and controls crucial involuntary actions of your cardiac and respiratory system like breathing, swallowing, heart rate, coughing, sneezing, and vomiting. When affected by alcohol, the medulla can slow down and stop functioning all together which can lead to alcohol poisoning.
- The Central Nervous System– The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and serves as the body’s superhighway so your brain can send and receive information from neurotransmitters about your organs. When affected by alcohol, the flow of information to and from your brain along your central nervous system slows which results in difficulty thinking, weakened vision and hearing, memory loss, slurred speech, and more.
- The Cerebellum– The cerebellum is a small round portion at the back of your brain, on top of your brain stem, that controls motor skills and verbal coordination. When affected by alcohol, your physical and verbal skills slow down and cause slurred speech and instability that could lead to injury.
- The Hippocampus-Part of the limbic system, the hippocampus is part of a set of structures responsible for emotions, creating memories, and natural human drives like hunger. When affected by alcohol, it results in problems remembering things and can lead to blackouts.
Learning about the parts of their brain and what they’re responsible for helps kids understand the why behind the no so they feel empowered to make healthy decisions. Kids as young as 9 can understand that not only does alcohol affect their developing brains, but it’s also illegal to consume before the age of 21. When kids know the facts, they can make healthy choices and practice safe decision making. Read up on the facts to know why kids and alcohol don’t mix.
Talk About Goal Setting
Setting goals and surrounding yourself with those who support you is part of prevention education. Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Olympic and Paralympic athletes during a Help Kids Make Smart Choices webinar designed to help kids to learn new strategies to make smart choices to keep them on track to help them reach their goals.
Hosted by Classroom Champions, the 30 minute conversation featured athletes Dani Aravich, Markieth Price, and Sakura Kokumai. Each Olympic and Paralympic athlete shared times they had to make smart, healthy choices that ultimately helped them reach their goals. Watch the recording with your kids to learn how each athlete stays focused, advocates for themselves, and builds a supportive community of friends who helps them achieve their goals. It was inspiring to speak with Dani, Markeith, and Sakura and their advice is relevant for kids of all ages, whether athletes or not.
Sit Down for a Family Dinner
In today’s busy connected world, when do you take time to talk as a family? In our house, conversations happen during dinner. Studies show that families with teens who eat dinner together are less likely to use drugs and alcohol. Use your time together to check in and have a conversation. Talking to your kids early and often about underage drinking prevention is important.
The Family Dinner Project is another great source of conversation starters. There are topics like goals for the future, thanks and giving, and managing anxiety. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for a collection of one line conversation starters.
We also like to keep Teen Conversation Cards from TableTopic ($25 from Amazon) on our table. Each card features a fun or thought provoking question that provides helpful insight into who they are to help you form more meaningful connections with them.
Encourage Your Child’s Teachers to Teach Prevention Education
While parents are the #1 influence on a child’s decision to drink or not drink alcohol, teachers also play a vital role. Prevention education helps students stand up for themselves and be positive leaders for their peers.
Since October is also Health Literacy Month, I’m moderating a free prevention education webinar for health and physical education teachers for SHAPE America this Thursday (10/26) at 7 pm ET.
The conversation will feature Jeff Bartlett and Jessica Matheson, SHAPE America National Health Education Teachers of the Year, and Olympic gold medalist and Classroom Champions founder, Steve Mesler. The Prevention Education is Health Literacy webinar will include ways teachers can integrate prevention education into their health classroom and how to access free classroom resources.
Feel free to share these resources with middle school teachers you know as they work to start conversations about positive peer influence in their classrooms:
- Setting the Tone for Healthy Decision-Making in the Classroom
- Ways to Lead the Conversation
- 10 Ways to say NO to Underage Drinking
I work as an Educational Programs Consultant for Responsibility.org and am a member of their Educational Advisory Board. This year Ask, Listen, Learn is celebrating their 20th anniversary with #Take20ForKids: Take 20 seconds, 20 minutes, or 20 breaths to connect and discuss the risks associated with underage drinking, to model responsible behavior, or to take action on a goal. I was not compensated or required to write this post. Some images courtesy of Ask, Listen, Learn and Classroom Champions.