There’s a common misconception that talking to children about things such as sex and alcohol encourages them to try them. That thinking could not be more flawed. The truth is, talking to children about alcohol consumption early and often can protect them from many of the high-risk behaviours associated with it. One 2019 study found that 24.6% of 14-15 year olds reported having had at least 1 alcoholic drink. Here are some tips for talking to children about alcohol consumption.
Evaluate your own views
Sometimes when we’re asked to articulate our views, it’s possible to realize you cannot make an argument for your position. Whether you drink alcohol or not, it’s important to evaluate your position and be able to explain it to your children should the need arise. It’s also important to check your own beliefs about alcohol consumption including prejudices you may have picked up along the way.
Parents have a significant influence on their children’s perception of alcohol and whether or not their children choose to experiment. Create a supportive and nurturing environment that will allow your children to be open with you about their own thoughts and experiences with alcohol consumption over time.
Many small conversations
Opt for many small conversations over time as your child grows. Talk about it early, often and whenever it is relevant. Your preschooler may not be ready for that conversation, but they are observant and stand to benefit from you setting a good example if you consume alcohol yourself. For about age 4-10, raise a discussion about alcohol consumption when an ad comes on TV or when you’re watching something on TV and alcohol comes up.
Tweens may be curious about alcohol and teens may even have friends who indulge and may have indulged themselves. Talk to them about the effects of alcohol consumption and why it is dangerous for growing bodies and minds. Touch on how to respond when faced with peer pressure. Emphasize that there is no safe level of alcohol use for people under the age of 18. Let them know that there is no rush to join the drinking masses and that all these things will still be accessible when they are old enough if they so choose that path.
In the event that you don’t consume alcohol yourself, explain all the reasons why you choose not to in a non-judgmental way. Share other reasons why other people choose not to drink. If you have a family member struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, let them know about this predisposition too. Lest you end up speaking the whole time, create an environment where they feel safe enough to ask questions. Find out their views about alcohol consumption based on everything they know so far. Debunk any myths. And listen, really listen to them.
Talk about underage drinking and the consequences
For older children, share the facts. Explain why they need to wait until they’re older. Talk about how their brains are still developing and alcohol consumption changes the way the brain works and makes it less smart and less happy for the rest of their lives.
Let them know that children who try alcohol before they’re 15 and four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those who begin after the age of 20. Explain that alcohol compromises decision making, leaving users more likely to do things they’ll later regret.
Talk about the negative effects alcohol has on the body. Remind them that alcohol consumption is illegal for underage children and the very last thing they could possibly want is to tangle with the state and incarceration.
Coach don’t control
Even after extensive conversations over time about alcohol consumption and the dangers of underage drinking and drinking in general, you have no control over what your children do. You cannot be with them at all hours of the day. When it comes down to it, it will be up to them to decide whether to drink some alcohol when it is presented or not.
The best you can do is educate them and teach them to reflect on what’s important, who they want to be and their values when at crossroads. Support them by creating a trusting relationship with them and encouraging healthy friendships with others. Establish house rules regarding alcohol consumption and the consequences for breaking them. Pay attention to their plans and whereabouts this will help you pick up on any changes should there be any.
Set a great example of what responsible alcohol consumption looks like if you take alcohol yourself. There’s an instinct among parents who consume alcohol in an attempt to protect their children to hide their drinking through things like emptying the alcohol into juice bottles or something.
When children find out about this deception then their trust in you is shattered and they learn that it’s okay to hide their alcohol use if they ever choose to drink. If you want your children to be open and honest with you, be open and honest with them. The best way to educate them is to model the behaviour you want them to adapt and emulate.
Be careful with your own alcohol consumption. At family events and gatherings, don’t let alcohol be the central focus of the event. Ensure that all the adults present at such functions are responsible drinkers and if there are any who are known to struggle with it, consider having alcohol free events.
Talk about what safe alcohol consumption looks like
Explain what safe, responsible alcohol consumption looks like. No binge drinking, mixing alcohol and other drugs. Definitely no drinking and driving. No drinking on an empty stomach and how it’s best practice to alternate alcoholic drinks with water. Talk about the importance of keeping count of how many drinks you’ve had. Emphasize the importance of resisting peer pressure and give them practical tips to resist the pressure to fit in with their peers.