Michele Borba Blog: Why we must talk to kids about drinking sooner and how to do so

by | Mar 18, 2010 | Uncategorized

You say:  “Why should I talk to my child about drinking, he isn’t even a teenager!”

I say: “That’s exactly when you should talk to your kid about alcohol. In fact, the earlier the better.”

Did you know that kids are having their first drink three and a half years earlier than kids from the baby boomer generation? Here are a few other little morsels for a reality check ( or another sleepless night).

  • 7 percent of fourth-graders, more than eight percent of fifth graders have drunk beer liquor or wine coolers in the past year.
  • 27 percent of sixth graders have used alcohol at least once this past year
  • One out of six eighth graders are current drinkers.
  • Girls now binge drink more frequently than boys or at least boys are binging at a slower rate than their female peers.

Research also shows that kids form beliefs about alcohol very early in life, even before they start elementary school. And parents (a.k.a. YOU) also have far more influence on their children’s attitudes when they are young. Children nine or under generally perceive see drinking as negative, but around thirteen their views change and become more positive.Those are all the reasons why you must start those “drinking talks” by the fourth grade at the very latest.

But there is also one irrefutable research-based finding you can’t ignore: The earlier kids start to drink, the more likely they are to have alcohol problems later in life. Children who start to drink before the age of 15 are four times more likely to report the criteria for alcohol dependence.

Here are solutions to prepare you for that critical must-have ongoing parenting talk with your child about drinking:

Be a good model. Kids get their views about alcohol from watching your behavior and listening to your comments. Forget trying to tell your teen to be a responsible driver later on if you’re not one now. Don’t glamorize alcohol or say you’re using it as a way to unwind, “I sure could use a drink!” Instead, show kids other ways you relax. If you’re not an example of responsible behavior don’t expect your kid to act responsibly.

Set clear rules against drinking. Feel free to be puritanical and strict. Consistently enforcing those rules and monitor your kid’s behavior all help reduce the likelihood of underage drinking. A study of over 1000 teens found that kids with “hands on” parents who establish clear behavior expectations, monitor their comings and goings, and aren’t afraid to says no are four times less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking. This isn’t the time to “be cool.” Say no!

Start early and talk often. Before age nine, kids usually perceive alcohol negatively and see drinking as “bad” with negative consequences. By around the age of thirteen kids views of alcohol, change and become more positive and harder to change. Some kids are experimenting with drinking as young as ten or eleven. It’s never too early to start this talk, so don’t put it off.

Look for teachable moments. Lectures and stern warning are a kid-turnoff, but you still need to share information about alcohol as well as potential dangers. So look for ways to weave the topic into natural everyday moments. Here are a few ways:

  • Popular song lyrics. You may not have to look too far–pull those earphones out of your kid’s ear and listen to the lyrics. One out of every three songs on those billboard charts has a reference to substance abuse—alcohol is the substance most frequently mentioned.
  • News clippings. If you read about an accident caused by a teen drunk driver, cut it out and use it to discuss how drinking can affect not only judgment and perform everyday tasks. It could also be life threatening or destroy if you were that driver.
  • Alcohol advertising. Long-term studies show that kids who see, hear and read more alcohol ads are more likely to drink and drink heavier than their peers. Use those frequently-aired beer and vodka commercials during those ballgames you’re watching together as opportunities to discuss your values, concerns, and rules about drinking.

Start the “Don’t “drink and drive”mantra N.O.W. It makes no difference that your child does not have a driver’s license let alone a car. Now is the time to stress one emphatic rule: “NEVER ever ever ever drink and drive.

Get on board with other parents. More kids take their first drink at your home or at the home of their friends. In fact, 60 percent of eighth graders say it is fairly or very easy to obtain alcohol-and the easiest place is in their own home. Know your kid’s friends and their parents. Call any parent hosting a party to ensure they are really supervising those sleepovers or birthday parties.

Drinking is a serious health problem with devastating consequences for preteens. Research shows that today’s kids are drinking at younger ages. The reason most frequently quoted by kids for not drinking is their desire not to harm the relationship they have with their parents. A parent’s caring, involved relationship with their child is best solution to underage drinking. Stay involved! You do make a difference!

Studies show that 13,000kids will take their first drink today. Underage drinking is clearly a problem.

So have you had “the drinking talk?”

These ideas are adapted from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. For dozens more strategies, research, signs and solutions turn to Drinking, Growing Up Too Fast, Steroids, Sex or any of the other 97 top parenting challenges.

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