Use what you know about your child to craft your conversation.
Recommended age ranges provide parents with a “heads up” for when they should talk to their kids about alcohol — bottom line, the earlier the better. But children mature at different rates and parents will be more successful in engaging their children if they use what makes them unique.
Is your child excited by science? There’s plenty of information about the brain and overall body systems that have to do with alcohol. Is he or she a wizard at math? There are a lot of statistics and numbers that can help you share important facts on underage drinking.
As most elementary-school-aged children have a limited attention span, your best approach is to share one point at a time, just enough for them to process. You may find a path they are receptive to or need to try another one.
Teaching your child to avoid underage drinking isn’t about having one “big talk.” It’s actually better to just start talking … have multiple, shorter conversations over an extended period of time, adding topics as they grow up.
Turn everyday situations into teachable moments.
Teachable moments aren’t something you need to schedule. They are opportunities you find during the course of a day that lets you share the facts about alcohol with your child.
Below are a few themes you can build upon. Just remember, you want to encourage a dialogue with your child, so try to ask open-ended questions instead of those that only require a yes/no response.
Watching television shows and commercials, movies or music videos
What children see:
Famous, glamorous people are enjoying alcohol.
Do you think these people are happy because of the alcohol? Truth is, sometimes it makes people sad or angry.
Do you think this is real life? While they may be happy, the truth is that these people are actors and it’s their job to smile and pretend like they’re having a good time.
Do you think that alcohol will make you “cool” and popular like the person in the ad or the movie? Is this something you and your friends have talked about? Are there things you feel pressured to do to feel popular?
Incident in the local community or in the media
What children hear or see:
Kids or teens arrested for drinking on the playground or in the woods and are suspended from school.
Why do you think they were drinking in the first place? Did you know that alcohol is dangerous for kids and can damage your brain and keep it from developing properly?
Do you know these kids who were drinking? What do you think of these kids? What do you think their parents will say?
Do you ever hear kids at school talking about alcohol? What do they say about it?
Has anyone offered you alcohol? If anyone ever offers you alcohol, you know to say no, right? If someone asks you, you can always tell me what happened, and we’ll figure out what to do.
What children see:
During celebrations, children often see adults consuming alcohol while having a good time. Maybe the kids even witness those adults getting buzzed and exhibiting unusual behavior.
Do you know that alcohol is OK for adults to drink, but not kids? How does that make you feel? What do you think when you see someone you know drinking — does it surprise or shock you? Do you think they should drink in front of kids?
Do you know that adults sometimes use alcohol to relax or drink it as part of a celebration? How important do you think it is that they know when to stop and not to drive if they’ve had too much? If they’ve had too much to drink, what do you think is the best way for them to get home?
Have you ever wanted to take a sip from someone’s drink? Has anyone ever offered you a taste of their drink? What would you say if they did? Would you tell me about it? Do you know why it’s not a good idea to even taste alcohol?
Alcoholism in the family
What children see:
A family member repeatedly drunk at family events; maybe a family member who has “hit bottom” and was arrested or entered a rehab program.
How do you feel about the family member who has a drinking problem? Do they look or seem happy? Why do you think they keep drinking? What does it make you think about drinking alcohol? Does it make you want to stay away from it?
Can you think of ways that drinking can get in the way of your dreams and hurt the people you love?
Did you know that the younger someone starts drinking that the more likely they are to have problems with alcohol when they’re older?
Were you aware that alcoholism can run in families? Did you know that’s why it’s really important to not drink underage or maybe ever? How can someone who has a problem with alcohol get help?
2 in 5 PA parents find it acceptable for kids to drink alcohol on "special occasions"
About the same percentage of parents (37%) believe it’s natural for children to experiment with alcohol and trust their child to experiment responsibly.
Tip: To help your child avoid the risks associated with alcohol, it’s important to learn the facts. It’s illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol – regardless of the situation. And children who begin drinking at an early age can be four times more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life.
Be patient and take small steps. The topic is complex and you don’t want to overwhelm your child.