It’s mid-August and chances are, you’ve checked most of the back-to-school items off your list: school supplies, haircuts, new shoes, text books. You want your kids to be prepared, and you’re willing to navigate long lines and late nights to make sure they’re all set.
But are your kids just as prepared for the changes and peer pressure that come with each new year of middle and high school? Do they know where they’ll face the biggest pressure and how they’ll handle it? As a parent, even if you’re armed with information, how do you make sure your kids will listen?
The average age youth in Texas report drinking their first alcoholic beverage is 12.6, which is also the average age of a seventh grader. But in all likelihood, your child isn’t getting their alcohol at late-night raves or bars or dance clubs. The majority of middle and high schoolers get alcohol at home, from friends, or at parties.
For middle schoolers, this usually means drinking with 3-4 friends in their own home or at a friend’s house. For high school students, most drinking happens at house parties, which are often in the homes of friends or family. The parties usually take place when adults are away or simply unaware drinking is taking place under their roof. In other cases, parents are home and aware there is underage drinking occurring; they might even be supplying the alcohol.
As your kids continue to grow and encounter new experiences when they’re not under your watchful eye, how do you help keep them safe without locking them up until they’re 21?
Research says that if your message – don’t drink until you’re 21 – is clear, your child is less likely to drink than if you communicate a message that says, “I know you’re going to drink no matter what I say, so just be safe.”
Talking with your kids about alcohol isn’t an easy task, but there are some great resources available to help you have those conversations. We love these suggestions from Dr. Laura Markham over at Aha! Parenting. On her list of 15 suggestions for talking to your child about alcohol, she suggests parents try to “coach instead of control” and practice role-playing scenarios with their child.
Coach Instead of Trying to Control
You can’t actually control your child when she’s out of your sight. But you can help her become a person who has good values and good judgment. You do that by modeling and by talking. Ask questions to help your child reflect on what’s important to her and who she wants to be. Then listen hard. You’ll learn a lot from her answers.
- Why do you think it’s illegal for kids and teens to drink alcohol?
- What would you do if you were in a car and the driver had been drinking?
- What about if the driver was a grown-up, like the parent of a friend?
- Do you know any adults who drink too much? What do you think of them?
- Have you ever thought that I drank too much? Acted differently when I drank alcohol?
- Do you know any kids who have tried alcohol or drugs? Do you think that’s a problem?
- Why do you think kids try alcohol?
- When do you think kids are ready to try alcohol?
- What do the kids at your school do at parties? Have you been to a party like that?
- Have you ever been offered a drink? How did you handle it? Were you tempted? Why or why not?
- What could you say if you were offered a drink and you didn’t want to look foolish?
- What could you do at a party if you were feeling a little nervous, besides drinking?
- What would you do if you were at a party and someone passed out from drinking alcohol?
- Would you be worried about becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs? Why or why not?
Have Practice Conversations with Your Child
Talk with him about the various scenarios he might encounter and the decisions he might have to make. What might he do or say? For instance, if someone offers him a drink:
- No, thanks, I’m the designated driver.
- No, thanks, I want to keep a clear head tonight.
- No, thanks, I don’t drink.
- No, thanks, my playing on the team is too important to me.
- No, thanks, I’m allergic to alcohol.
- No thanks, I love my cokes plain.
- No, thanks. My parents would ground me forever if they found out — and they always do!
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has a lot of resources to help parents talk to their kids about alcohol. Along with SAMHSA, we encourage you to “Talk. They Hear You.” This summer, set aside some time before classes get started to talk with your kids about alcohol, peer pressure, and the decisions they may face in the new school year. They may not want to open up at first (and you may feel nervous asking questions, but don’t let that stop you!), but once they do and these conversations take place, they’re more likely to make choices that keep them healthy and safe.
To help get you started on these conversations, we’ve created a checklist of talking points below. If you have any other advice for talking to your kids about alcohol, be sure to share your tips with us in the comments!