Talking To Your Kids About Alcohol—From Childhood To Adolescence

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As parents, we can dread certain conversations. The topic of drugs and alcohol may be right up there with “where babies come from.” But the harsh reality is that close to 80 percent of high school kids have experimented with alcohol. This is a major red flag that family discussions need to start early!

Parents have a significant impact on their children’s decisions, and it’s important to talk about alcohol with your kids. When children grow up with loving, nurturing, and supportive parental relationships, they are less likely to engage in high risk behaviors or to make unhealthy decisions.

The Importance of Talking to Kids About Drugs and Alcohol

mother on a bench with kids overlooking valley
Photo by Benjamin Manley on Unsplash

To decrease the likelihood of your child partaking in underage drinking, it is critical to start talking about drug and alcohol use at an early age, and continue the dialogue throughout high school and college. This sets the stage for open communication, and ongoing opportunities for them to ask questions, express concerns, or call for help when needed.

So, let’s take a look at when to start the conversations and talk about alcohol effectively at each age. You don’t have to cover all the information at once—think of it as an ongoing conversation that allows your kids to digest what they can along the way!

How to Talk to Your Kids About Alcohol

Having conversations regarding your kids and alcohol is so important! The key is keeping the information age-appropriate. Share too much detail with very young children and you will lose them. And “talking down” or lecturing older kids is a sure way to shut things down before you even begin!

Here are some tips for adjusting your messaging according to developmental stages.

Preschoolers

You may wonder why on earth this topic would even be on their radar. But here’s the connection: preschoolers are beginning to develop decision-making and problem-solving skills. The very skills that come into play later on when they are confronted with tough choices like whether to drink alcohol. Empower your young kids to make decisions at this early stage, so they develop confidence in this area.

Ages 4-7

Kids in this age range won’t necessarily relate to future scenarios. It is advisable to keep the conversation focused on the present. Tie the topic of drugs and alcohol into discussions about keeping their bodies healthy.  You can even point out things they see on TV (or in real-life) and ask them what they think about it.

Ages 8-11

This is a stage of curiosity. Kids enjoy learning facts and want to understand how things work. This is the perfect time to begin sharing alcohol information and facts with kids. Discussions about peer pressure are also appropriate at this stage. It is important to keep these conversations casual, so they can happen regularly.

Ages 12-17

As kids enter the teen years they likely have a good understanding of the risks of alcohol, especially if you started the dialogue when they were young. However, it is crucial to keep the lines of communication open—especially now, when teens tend to establish their independence and may try risky behaviors.

Your teen will be much more likely to respond if you approach them with respect, trust, and acceptance as opposed to threats and lectures.

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Alcohol Information For Kids

Among the most important information you can share with your kids is the effect that alcohol use and abuse has on their body. Here are some specific facts they need to be aware of:

Short-Term Effects

  • Impaired judgment, which can result in car accidents, drowning, and high risk behaviors such as unsafe sex, sexual assault, or drug use
  • Distorted hearing, vision, and coordination
  • Altered emotions and perceptions
  • Hangovers

Long-Term Effects

  • Damage to the heart and central nervous system
  • High risk of overdosing
  • Memory loss
  • Liver disease
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Stomach issues
  • Sexual side effects

Teaching Your Kids How to Say “No”

two teenage boys talking and laughing
Photo by Shawnee D on Unsplash

Standing up to peer pressure is not for the faint of heart. It is common for kids and teens to want to fit in and not feel like a “loser.” It is important that you give them the guidance they need to stand up for themselves and how to say “no” effectively.

Teach your child never to accept a drink unless they know what’s in it and where it came from. They need to say “no, thank you” to alcoholic drinks. Let your child know how to leave uncomfortable situations, and that they can call you for a ride anytime, with no questions asked.

Prevention Strategies For Parents of Teens

Build a loving, trusting relationship

Spend one-to-one time together and show a sincere interest in your teen’s life. Let them know they can talk to you honestly and about anything, without criticism or judgment.

Take advantage of teachable moments

If you read an article or hear something on the news about an accident or a DUI, talk about it. Ask your teen what they think, and then reinforce the dangers of alcohol. TV shows and movies often portray drinking scenarios for discussion as well.

Set a healthy example

If you drink, do so responsibly. Avoid telling tales about “funny” drinking shenanigans of your youth.

Establish and communicate family rules

Make it clear that drinking is not allowed prior to age 21, at home or anywhere else. That includes attending parties where alcohol is served, or getting in a car with a driver who has been drinking.

Monitor alcohol use in your home

Keep tabs on your alcohol supply. Don’t permit unsupervised parties in your home.

Connect with other like-minded parents

Make sure you are all on the same page with house rules about alcohol and adult supervision.

Suggest alternative activities

Encourage involvement with sports, clubs, theatre, art, community services—whatever sparks their interests.

Share the facts

Talk to your teen about alcohol facts, and how to avoid drinking in uncomfortable situations. Ask them how they would respond in different scenarios, and offer guidance on what to say. Try some role-plays if they are up for it.

Know the warning signs

It is important to tune into your child’s moods, emotions, behaviors, and who their friends are, to determine whether they are at high risk for drinking so you can seek immediate support.

Responding To Their Questions

family on a vacation with both older and younger kids
Photo by Josue Michel on Unsplash

Kids are smart. They see what is going on in the world around them. They notice adults drinking. And they may ask why they can’t drink in the house, or why they have to wait until they are 21. Here is how you can respond:

  • “Your brain is still growing and alcohol actually changes how your brain functions.”
  • “Kids who try alcohol before age 15 are more likely to become addicted than those who wait until after the age of 20.”
  • “Drinking alcohol can result in bad choices, which may lead to things like car accidents, or sexual assault.”
  • “Alcohol is bad for your body and can affect your weight or ability to play sports.”
  • “Underage drinking is against the law.”

Should You Let Your Teen Drink?

Although some parents believe that their teen will develop a healthier relationship with alcohol if allowed to drink at home under their watch, the truth is that drinking is harmful for the teen’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

One three year study of middle school students revealed that drinking escalated the most among kids who were allowed to drink at home. Another study concluded that there was a link between drinking at home, and drinking heavily outside the home.

While one study showed that allowing teens to take a sip of alcohol at a family occasion can be a protective factor against alcohol abuse, allowing regular drinking can often have the opposite effect.

The Take-Away on How To Talk About Alcohol With Your Kids

Talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol can be tricky, but it’s essential. It’s also important to note that alcohol information for kids isn’t a “one and done” discussion, but rather an ongoing dialogue starting at an early age. Even the smallest children can be taught about boundaries and health.

The most important tool you have is your relationship with your child. If you build a loving, supportive bond, they will most likely have the self-esteem they need to respect their bodies, stand up to others, and make good decisions about alcohol (and their lives in general!).

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol use, help is available. Ria Health offers regular coaching sessions from the convenience of a mobile app. No office visits are required! Reach out to our team online today to get started.

Written By:
Lisa Keeley
Lisa Keeley is a freelance writer in Rochester. She especially enjoys writing on health & wellness.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Writer specializing in targeted, informative content. Dedicated to making the abstract accessible.
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