How To Communicate To Your Kids The Dangers Of Inappropriate Alcohol Consumption
Ryan was only 12 years old when he had his first bottle of beer. At 21, he had to enroll himself in an AA [Alcoholic Anonymous] group because of his drinking problem. On the other hand, James got his first taste of wine at the age of 15 from his parents. They even allowed him to get drunk one time during a July 4th family celebration. He said it was his parents’ way of educating him about responsible alcohol consumption. Did it work? James believed it did. He claimed he never binged on alcoholic drinks when he was in college, as he already knew his limitations.
Ryan and James are just two of the many adolescents and teens curious about the many things adults do like consuming alcohol. And the saying curiosity killed the cat proves to be true because young people who experiment on alcohol seem to end up destroying their lives which may ultimately lead to early death or alcoholism.
“The effects and consequences on substance use on families are devastating. Over 7 million children in the United States—more than 10%—live with a parent who has problems with alcohol, according to a 2012 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report. These children and their families are at risk for other co-morbid mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, substance use issues, and addiction.” said Jeremy Frank, PhD, CADC.
So if you’re a parent of tweens and teens, how are you going to tell them about alcohol? Two experts give their take on this matter.
The Earlier The Better
Some parents think they have to wait until their kids reach their teen years to start talking to them about issues like alcohol. However, a well-known family therapist and a child psychologist believe it is best if the talk is done at an earlier age.
“About 10 to 14 years old — that’s the time most kids start to get curious about alcoholic drinks and consumption and some might even have experimented already to satisfy their curiosity,” the family therapist says to which the psychologist adds: “It’s important to note that most drinkers had their first taste of alcohol at the age of 12.”
“Families that talk and communicate expectations clearly, logically, rationally, and with consideration to age-appropriate context for the child’s development level have a better chance of addressing drinking and alcohol consumptions in a way that promotes responsible behaviors,” said Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT.
Keep It Casual But Clear
Both experts agree that no matter how tempting it is to go all out in lecture mode when you talk to your kids about important issues like alcohol, DON’T DO IT.
“An open and positive communication between parents and kids should always be nurtured. This way, the latter won’t feel they have the need to hide their thoughts or whatever they have to say about family issues such as this. And as they look up to their parents for guidance, using a positive approach when talking to them will impose the lessons you want them to learn instead of going totalitarian,” states the child psychologist who has written various books about parenting teenagers.
“And don’t make it sound as if it’s all about rules. Tell them you worry about their wellbeing and that getting drunk could get out of hand resulting in dire consequences,” she adds.
Hear Their Voice And Get Them Involved
Let your tweens and teens know that you care about what they think, too. Let them speak up about their side and stand on the matter, why they think it’s okay to consume alcohol, why it’s not and so on.
“Including them is a must,” says the family therapist. “Teens want to feel like they matter and not just a sounding board of rules. Allow them to talk about their opinions and if these differ from yours, talk to them about it in a calm way.”
Is It Okay To Let Youngsters Consume Alcohol Within The Safety Of The Home?
When asked this question, both experts gave a resounding NO.
“While some parents allow this reasoning because doing so makes the kids safer than going out with their peers to drink illegally elsewhere, it just isn’t right,” they argued. “We all know that there’s always that great possibility that no matter the location, alcohol consumption can always spiral out of control.”
“While this works in some cases, we cannot discount the many instances when youngsters who freely had access to their parents’ alcoholic stash turned out to be alcoholics years later. We just want to lean on the safer side,” they added.
And their last advice?
“You have to know when to ask for help. If your gut tells you your kid is in serious alcohol trouble, believe it and take the necessary steps.”
“Adults are expected to have self-control and choose to consume or not consume alcohol based on knowledge regarding both the risks and health benefits—to drink responsibly. This is not true of children,” said psychologist Arash Emamzadeh.