Whether your child raises it or you
broach the subject of drinking, when it does come up, make your views utterly clear. Your tween may not parrot your opinions the way he did when he was seven, but he still very much cares what you think.
When And How
- Take advantage of daily opportunities to talk - without clobbering your child with your opinions
- Use a current newspaper article or recent event about alcohol as a way of raising the issue.
- Give your reaction to these examples. Ask your child for his. Listen carefully, and don't criticize his answers. Make it a discussion, not an argument. Learn from each other
"Kids need to know that if they speak openly, they won't regret it," says Paul Coleman, a psychologist, family therapist, and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. "They don't want to be talked down to. Eliminate comments like 'How could you think that way? What made you say such a thing?'" If your child feels you're interrogating him, he'll clam up. If he knows that it's okay to talk - even disagree - about difficult issues, he'll be less likely to tune out your opinion.
Know What To Say
Tweens are undergoing many emotional and physical changes, and they're fascinated by how their bodies and minds operate. So give your child plenty of information about how alcohol affects them physiologically. You don't have to deliver a science report, but tell her about alcohol's impact on a young person:
- In some situations alcohol reduces inhibitions, leading to a wide range of risky situations.
- In other cases, usually in larger amounts, it can act as a depressant, potentially leading to sleep, comas, and even death.
- Physically, alcohol affects many of the body's organs and systems. It can irritate the stomach lining, make people lose their balance, throw up, and become unable to focus or speak clearly.
- In rare circumstances an overdose — known as alcohol poisoning — can kill.
- Emotionally, it can make young people stressed, angry, and violent.
- Mentally, it can interfere with normal brain development.
- It affects learning and memory, slows reactions, and often makes kids lose interest in getting good grades and staying in school.
- Drinking too much over a long period of time can damage major organs, including the liver, pancreas, kidneys, and bone marrow.
Seventy-one percent of parents have talked with their children about the dangers of drinking alcohol.
Among 10-18 year olds, 36% do not remember having a conversation with their parents about the dangers of drinking alcohol.
"You need to have these conversations over and over, because kids meet new situations as they get older," says Coleman. True, your child's eyes may glaze over, or she may accuse you of harping. "It's okay to admit to your child that you may not be saying the right things," he says. "Tell her that alcohol use among kids is scary for parents, and when parents are scared they don't always say things in the best way. And if your child is open to these talks, tell her how great that is, and how mature she's sounding." The bottom line is that study after study shows parents have the most influence over teens' decision to drink—or not. So it's critical that parents use it.