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Many parents wait until their children are in high school to talk about alcohol; however, research shows that parents should be starting these conversations before age 10. Of course, these discussions are better late than never, but the key when it comes to discussing alcohol is to start early and stick with it.

Did you know that children who begin drinking at age 13 have a 45 percent chance of becoming alcohol dependent as an adult? Or that on average, East Texas kids start drinking alcohol at 13 years old? Or that half of all lifetime cases of mental and substance use disorders begin by age 14?

These few statistics show the need for prevention efforts beginning at a young age.

This aligns with the theme for this year’s Alcohol Awareness Month: “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.” Alcohol Awareness Month is sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and is every April.

We work to make changes at the environmental level to create safer communities and decrease the chance of underage drinking, but we can’t do it alone. We can be successful only when we work together to create safe environments – at home and in the community – for our young people to strive and be their best.

Parents tend to think their children don’t listen to them; however, research shows otherwise. Parental disapproval is the No. 1 reason kids don’t drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Here for 8 tips for talking to kids about alcohol:

1. Educate yourself on the dangers of underage drinking

First, parents need to educate themselves on the harms of underage drinking.

Most parents don’t understand why the legal drinking age is 21 and they tell their kids that “you can’t do it because it’s illegal,” or “you could get in a car wreck and kill yourself or someone else.” While these are both valid points, there’s more to it.

Research shows us that brains don’t finish developing until the mid-twenties, and introducing alcohol during this time of development can have severe, long-term consequences. When alcohol consumption interferes with this early adult brain development, the potential for chronic problems such as greater risk for alcohol addiction, dangerous risk-taking behavior, reduced decision-making ability, memory loss, depression, violence and suicide is greater, according to US Department of Human Health and Services.

Other potential risks of underage drinking are risky sexual behavior, increased risk for physical and sexual assault, unintentional accidents and even death. Click this link to learn more of the consequences

Once parents are educated, they can be prepared to have the most accurate conversations with their children about the risks of underage drinking.

2. Start early

One-third of parents wait until their children are 14 to 19 years old, already in high school, to start talking about alcohol, according to a survey released by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Nationwide Insurance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children start to think positively about alcohol between ages 9 and 13. They emphasize the importance of talking to children about the dangers of alcohol as early as 9 years old.

 

3. Make it age appropriate

In an age-appropriate way, explain why the legal drinking age is 21 and the harms in alcohol use.

If you have an 8-year-old, you might explain that their brain is still growing and alcohol could harm that special process.

If you have a 15-year-old, you could talk about the disruption in brain development, as well as the potential for chronic problems such as greater risk for alcohol addiction, dangerous risk-taking behavior, reduced decision-making ability, memory loss, depression, violence and elevated suicide risk.

4. Set clear rules and expectations

Kids are much less likely to drink when clear rules and expectations are set.

Kids who receive messages that their parents completely disapprove of underage drinking are 80 percent less likely to drink than those who don’t, according to MADD.

Make it clear that you do not want your child drinking alcohol or using drugs and that you trust them not to.  Talk about possible consequences of drug and alcohol use, both legal and medical, and be clear about what you will do if the rules are broken.

However, it shouldn’t be a one-time, “I will kill you if I catch you drinking!” talk. Parents need to have ongoing, age-appropriate conversations with their kids.

5. Find casual ways to bring up alcohol in everyday conversations

Find ways to talk to your kids about alcohol without interrogating them or making them feel untrusted. You can do this by finding small, casual ways to bring up drinking in everyday conversations.

For example, parents can ask their kids what they hear at school about alcohol or if any of their friends drink or talk about alcohol.

If you’re watching TV together and alcohol is shown, parents can use that as a conversation starter by asking what their kids think about it. If what’s shown on TV is an unhealthy drinking behavior, the parent can explain how the behavior is unhealthy and what the risks are.

6. Encourage conversations about concerns and questions

Make sure your children know that they can feel comfortable in talking to you about any questions or concerns they have about drugs and alcohol.

7. Give your children the tools and self-confidence to say no

Children with high refusal skills are less likely to drink underage. Decide on good ways to say “no” and practice them often in role-play situations.

For example, they could say “Oh there’s no way I can drink that. If my parents smell booze on me, I’ll be dead.” Or “No thanks man. I have practice tomorrow and you know how coach is if he finds out we’ve been drinking.”

8. Be honest about family history

Research has clearly documented that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a chronic, progressive disease that can be linked to family history and genetics.  So, if you have a family history of problems with alcohol or drugs, be truthful about it, as you would any other chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

It can be awkward and uncomfortable to have these conversations at first, but it will be well worth the effort you put into it.

It’s time to get the conversation started. We can’t afford to wait any longer.