Parents play an important role in shaping their children’s attitudes about alcohol. Children often imitate the behavior of adults they respect. However, modeling good behavior toward alcohol is not enough. Children have questions about alcohol and need information about the consequences of drinking underage. Through open communication, parents can teach children to make wise decisions and learn how to say no to alcohol.
Tips for Starting a Conversation With Children About Drinking
It may be tempting to simply gather up all of the information you can about alcohol and have “the talk”. However, this approach puts a lot of pressure on one conversation and fails to address the questions children have at different ages. Instead, plan to have many conversations about alcohol over the course of several years. Children are more willing to discuss things if they know it’s a two-way conversation. Let children know their opinions are important and ask them questions that require some thought. Talk calmly and take a break if you or the child becomes upset.
Demonstrate your willingness to discuss alcohol in daily life. For example, if your children see drunken characters in a television show acting as though they are having a good time, ask them for their opinions about the portrayal. Help them distinguish between myths about alcohol and facts. The next time they see alcohol use on television, ask the children whether it is a myth or fact and continue the discussion. If alcoholism has impacted your family and the children are aware of it, be candid and explain how alcohol has affected the person’s judgment, behavior, or health.
Dangers and Potential Consequences of Drinking Underage
Children observe adults using alcohol and wonder why they can’t do the same. Remind children that their bodies are still developing and that alcohol use could be dangerous in many ways. If they drink alcohol, it will be absorbed into their bloodstream and can affect their developing central nervous system. Alcohol use can impair the underage drinker’s judgment, cause health problems, and have negative social consequences.
It is difficult to make good decisions when alcohol is interfering with a drinker’s vision, hearing, and thinking. Teenagers who consume alcohol are more likely to be involved in car accidents or an accidental drowning or commit a crime. Alcohol is a depressant and can cause despondency. Underage drinkers are at a greater risk for suicide.
Drinking can have unwanted health consequences. Teens who drink are more apt to engage in risky sexual activity, experience sexual assaults, and have unplanned pregnancies. Girls in puberty who drink might notice delays in the development of their reproductive system. Children who drink large amounts could get alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. Drinking alcohol at a young age can lead to a lifelong addiction and continued health problems.
Drinking underage can also have negative social consequences. With impaired judgment, drinkers often say and do stupid things. This can damage relationships. Students who drink alcohol might find their grades slipping due to poor sleep habits and an inability to stay focused on their homework. Drinking might also interfere with their job performance. An inability to maintain healthy relationships, get a good education, and hold down a job can make for a miserable life.
Underage drinkers put themselves in legal jeopardy, too. In addition to the embarrassment of being arrested, violators may need to pay fines, go into juvenile detention, or perform community service. Students could be suspended or expelled from extracurricular activities and school.
Ways to Teach Children to Say No to Alcohol
One way children learn to say no to alcohol is by seeing their parents say no to it. Model this in the presence of children by politely declining alcohol offered at a restaurant or firmly refusing to ride with someone who has been drinking.
Engage in a brainstorming session with your child to anticipate tempting situations and ways to say no to alcohol. Roleplay and let the child practice saying no to a tempting offer in a confident, assertive manner. Help children create a plan to call a parent or go someplace else in the event that alcohol shows up at a party or friend’s house.
Establish and enforce rules about alcohol. Despite their quest for independence, children generally want to please their parents. A child might find it helpful to say “My parents will ground me” or “I’ll be suspended from the team” in order to get out of a difficult situation.
Arm your children with good reasons not to drink, and remind them that many people do not use alcohol. Encourage them to make friends with other children who follow rules and participate in healthy activities. When your children make wise decisions, give them lots of praise.
- Alcohol and Teen Health
- Talking With Children About Alcohol and Drugs
- Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol
- Helpful Language to Use for “the Talk”
- Videos With Shaquille O’Neal About Underage Drinking
- If You’re Not Talking to Your Kids About Alcohol, Who Is?
- Stop Underage Drinking: Data and Resources
- How to Talk With Your Kids About Drinking (PDF)
- Alcohol and Your Child: Facts About Underage Drinking Every Parent Should Know (PDF)
- The Young Teen’s Place for Info on Alcohol and Resisting Peer Pressure
- Exercising Parental Authority: Alcohol
- Parents Are Key in Preventing Alcohol Use
- Learning How to Say No to Alcohol Advertising and Peer Pressure
- CDC Fact Sheet: Underage Drinking
- The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking (PDF)
- How to Talk to Your Kid About Underage Drinking
- Talking With Your Kids About Drugs and Alcohol
- Enlisting Today’s Parents in Alcohol Prevention (PDF)
- Talking With Your Student About Alcohol
- Seminar for Parents: Alcohol Use on Campus
- Parents of Teens: Handling Tough Questions
- Teenage Drinking: Understanding the Dangers and Talking to Your Child
- Underage Drinking: Talking to Your Teen About Alcohol
- Videos on Underage Drinking
By Ted Burgess