Some parents say that because alcohol is legal, it’s hard for them to think of it as being dangerous. Other parents say they find it difficult to talk about alcohol because they drink. Yet, alcohol is the drug most often used by young people and the consequences of its use can be harmful to your child in many ways.
It’s never too early to start talking with your child about drinking. Some children start asking questions when they’re four or five years old. Many parents make the mistake of waiting until their child has begun drinking but if you listen and respond to your child sensitively, you may be able to help prevent problems from developing later. Many people feel that prevention is impossible; kids will experiment… However, WE CAN DELAY the onset of first use! Studies show that those who drink alcohol at age 14 or younger are 4 – 7 times more likely to develop dependence later on. In a recent (CASA) study of people with a substance abuse disorder 28% indicated their first use was at age 14 or younger; conversely, only 4% of those with a substance abuse disorder said they had their first drink at the age of 21 or older.
No matter what the age of your children, they are more likely to talk with you about problems – about alcohol or other drug use as well as other important issues – if they feel you really listen. Sometimes, just listening to your child shows more concern than trying to give too much advice, being critical or treating your child’s problems too lightly. Try to remember that your own drinking behavior heavily influences how well your child will observe the household rules you establish. It’s OK to drink in front of your child, but be aware that your child will observe how and when you drink. Do you use alcohol to reduce tension or to celebrate? Do you drive, boat or swim after drinking? Monitoring the quantity and frequency of your drinking as well as being sure that you don’t drink and then engage in potentially dangerous activities all set good examples for your child.
Get to know your child’s friends. Your child may be opposed to drinking and drug use but are their friends? Some of them may think that drinking isn’t a problem and their parents may not have the information you do. They may allow their children to drink and may allow parties in their homes where children have access to alcohol. A recent focus group study revealed that over half the youth surveyed reported that their source for alcohol originated from their home or that of a friend’s home. If your child has been invited to a party at the home of a friend you don’t know, call the friend’s parents ahead of time to be sure that adults will be present. Ask their attitudes about alcohol before you make a decision about allowing your child to attend the party.
In spite of your best efforts, your child will see and hear many “mixed messages” about drinking through advertising, television programs and movies. Estimates are that children will see over 75,000 drinking scenes before they turn 18 but they probably still won’t know much about alcoholic beverages or the serious health problems that they can cause.
Suggestions to prevent early alcohol use:
- Talk to your children regularly. Commercials for beer and alcohol look very appealing. They may leave the impression that young, attractive adults enjoy themselves ONLY when drinking. Super Bowl Sunday is very near, and often times the most talked about commercials are alcohol related. Talk with your children about the realities of those commercials.
- Explaining alcoholism without trying to “scare them straight”– Addiction affects one in every ten Americans. That is a reality. It does not mean that anyone that has a drink will become an alcoholic but the earlier the onset of drug and or alcohol use the greater the risk of future problems. Addiction is a disease and that an alcoholic or addict is a person who cannot stop using drugs or alcohol once they start, no matter how much it hurts them or the people around them.
- Teens realize that their actions have consequences. Talk about possible consequences with them, recognizing that certain consequences will differ for sons and daughters. Discuss how drinking can interfere with getting good grades in school; Can negatively affect athletic performance; Can make teens more vulnerable to unplanned sexual activity, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; Can cause accidents when driving, bicycling, swimming and can increase violent behavior.
- Lock up and/or inventory alcohol. According to focus group results, students indicate the most realistic prevention efforts involve parent engagement (not having alcohol in home – or locking alcohol up)
- Don’t allow alcohol parties – supervise youth at parties and sleepovers.
As parents we can make a difference! For more information on substance abuse education, prevention and Recovery, please visit my website