It’s never too early to talk to your children about alcohol and encourage them to talk with you.
Children become curious and some try drinking as early as 9 years old.
Before age 9, children typically view drinking negatively. Between the ages of 9 and 13, they start to view alcohol more positively. Many children begin to think underage drinking is OK and some even start to experiment.
Conversation is often more effective before children start drinking. The reason most children choose not to drink is because their parents talked to them about it.
If you talk to them directly and honestly, they are more likely to respect your rules and advice about alcohol use.
What you say to your child about alcohol use is up to you.
But remember, if you don’t say anything to your child about drinking, you might give the impression that underage drinking is acceptable.
Underage drinking has serious consequences
When children drink, they tend to drink a lot. On average, they have about five drinks on a single occasion. This not only puts them at risk for a variety of short- and long-term physical and emotional problems, it also affects and endangers the lives of those around them.
Children who drink underage are more likely to:
• Use drugs: More than 67 percent of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug.
• Become addicted to alcohol: More than four in 10 people who begin drinking before age 15 eventually become dependent on alcohol.
• Get bad grades: Children who use alcohol have higher rates of academic problems and poor school performance compared to nondrinkers.
• Suffer injury or even death: In the U.S., an estimated 5,000 individuals under age 21 die each year from injuries caused by underage drinking. This includes death from car accidents, homicides and suicide, as well as from injuries such as falls, burns and drownings.
• Engage in risky sexual activity: Teens who use alcohol are more likely than teens who don’t drink to be sexually active at earlier ages, to have sexual intercourse more often, and to have unprotected sex.
• Be a victim of a violent or sexual crime: Children who drink are more likely to become victims of rape, aggravated assault and robbery.
• Make bad decisions: Drinking lowers inhibitions and increases the chances that children will engage in risky behavior or do something that they will regret when they are sober.
• Have health problems: Young people who drink are more likely to have health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders. Even low levels of alcohol use can contribute to emotional, behavioral and health problems both during adolescence and later in life.
Keep the conversation going: Talk often
As children get older, the chance they will try alcohol continues to increase.
One conversation isn’t enough to give them the information and guidance they need. By talking often and honestly about alcohol, you have the ability to influence your child’s decisions about underage drinking.
• Short, frequent discussions can have a real impact on your child’s decisions about alcohol. Talking to your child at an early age about drinking is the first step toward keeping them alcohol-free. But as they enter junior high and high school, the pressure to try alcohol increases. It’s important to continue the conversation throughout adolescence.
• Talking often builds an open, trusting relationship with your child. Children are more likely to avoid drinking when they have a strong, trusting relationship with their parents. Get into the habit of chatting with your child every day. It will make it easier to have serious conversations about things like alcohol and will make your child more comfortable coming to you for advice.
• Lots of little talks are more effective than one “big talk.” Sitting down for the “big talk” about alcohol can be intimidating for both you and your child. Try using everyday opportunities to talk — in the car, during dinner or while you and your child are watching TV. Having lots of little talks takes the pressure off trying to get all of the information out in one lengthy discussion, and your child will be less likely to tune you out.
• When you do talk about alcohol, make your views and rules clear. Take the time to discuss your beliefs and opinions about alcohol with your child. Be honest and express a clear, consistent message that underage drinking is unacceptable. When they feel that you’re being real and honest with them, they’ll be more likely to respect your rules about underage drinking.
As children get older, the conversation changes
What you say to a 9-year-old about alcohol is different from what you say to a 15-year-old. Children also can’t learn all they need to know from a single discussion.
Make sure that the information you offer your child fits their age. As they get older, you can give them more information and reinforce your rules.
Remember that the conversation goes both ways
Although talking to your child about your thoughts about alcohol is essential, it’s also important to hear their point of view.
Give your child the opportunity to ask you questions, and listen to what they have to say. Children who have parents who listen to their feelings and concerns are more likely to say “no” to alcohol.
What you do is just as important as what you say
In addition to talking often with your child about alcohol, it’s important to set a good example.
If you choose to drink, you can positively influence your child by drinking in moderation and never driving when you’ve been drinking. Be aware of where you keep your alcohol, and always remind your child that the alcohol in your house is off-limits.
Children look to their parents to set rules and expectations about drinking. Poor and inconsistent parenting has been associated with early and excessive drinking among children. Provide your child with clear, consistent rules, and make it a point to be involved in his or her life.
For more tips, visit the Talk Early, Talk Often website at http://underagedrinking.samhsa.gov or contact the Stuttgart Army Substance Abuse Program at 431-2530/07031-15-2530.