Don’t wait until they’re "old enough" to give them the facts. Children see drinking all around them, at home, in restaurants, at family celebrations and on television. If your child asks questions about alcohol, particularly the way it affects people, you should be prepared to answer honestly. Many parents make the mistake of waiting until their child has begun drinking, but if you listen and respond to your younger child sensitively, you may be able to help prevent problems from developing later.
Some parents say that because alcohol is a legal drug, it’s hard for them to think of it as being dangerous. Other parents say they find it difficult to talk about alcohol because they drink.
Yet, alcohol is the drug most often used by young people.
AGES 5-9 As the parent of a five-to nine-year old, you can begin the process of teaching your child about alcohol. Talk about alcohol in the "here and now" and focus on events and people your child knows. When your child sees you or another adult drinking at a party or celebration, explain that some adults choose to drink while others don't, but that drinking is a decision that should be made when people are over age 21, the legal drinking age. Remember, the later that first drink is delayed, the less likely your child will have problems with alcohol later in life.
Children in this age group need rules to guide their behavior and information to make good choices and decisions. Stress to them the importance of learning to talk through their problems, and how to make difficult decisions with a clear head, and feeling good about the decisions they make instead of turning to alcohol. If you and your child see someone who is drunk, explain that getting drunk is never a good thing to do and can be dangerous. Explain that some people even develop the disease of alcoholism.
Talk to your children about maintaining good health and avoiding things that harm the body, especially bodies that are still growing. Encourage your children to see that if they can get through the difficulties of growing up without
drinking, they will be able to face anything, including the decision whether or not drink!
AGES 10-12 As the parent of a pre-teen, you have a special opportunity. Your child is in the "in-between" age, old enough to understand many adult subjects, but still young enough to accept your guidance willingly. This is a time when you can openly discuss the dangers of drinking with your child and prepare him or her to resist the pressure to drink that will come in the near future, if they aren't being pressured already.
No matter what the age of your children, they are more likely to talk with you about problems. Sometimes, just listening to your child shows more concern than trying to give too much advice, being critical or treating your child’s problems too lightly.
Try never to be judgmental or hypocritical about alcohol and remember that your own drinking behavior heavily influences how well your child will observe the household rules you establish. It's OK to drink in front of your child, but be aware that your child will observe how and when you drink. Do you use alcohol to reduce tension or to celebrate? Do you drive, boat or swim after drinking? Monitoring the quantity and frequency of your drinking as well as being sure that you don't drink and then engage in potentially dangerous activities all set good examples for your child.
Other ways you can be a good example regarding alcohol are to: • Always provide nonalcoholic drinks at parties in your home for guests who prefer them. • Show that drinking is not the focus of the party. • Discourage drunken behavior. • Make sure that alcohol-impaired friends don’t drive themselves home.
Get to know your child's friends and their parents. Some of them may think that drinking isn't a problem and they may not have the information you now do. They may allow their children to drink and may allow parties in their homes where children have access to alcohol. If your child has been invited to a party at the home of a friend you don't know, call the friend's parents ahead of time to be sure that adults will be present. Don’t be afraid to ask their attitudes about alcohol before you make a decision about allowing your child to attend the party.
In spite of your best efforts, your child will see and hear many "mixed messages" about drinking through advertising, television programs and movies. Estimates are that children will see over 75,000 drinking scenes before they turn 18 but they probably still won't know much about alcoholic beverages or the serious health problems that they can cause. Most children do not understand that standard servings of distilled spirits, wine, beer and wine coolers all contain the same amount of alcohol. Explain that wine coolers or beer often consumed by minors can get you just as drunk as so-called "hard" liquor and do the same damage to the body.
You can be your child's best teacher so continue to educate your child about the importance of maintaining good health. Even if your child's school offers an alcohol and drug education curriculum, your child needs consistent information and support at home. Your willingness to listen to your children's problems and feelings will help them develop a sense of confidence in themselves. It will help them develop the coping skills they need for dealing with anger, stress, loneliness and disappointment without turning to alcohol.
Children do pressure others their own age to drink. Your child needs to know that he or she doesn't have to do something, including drinking, just because they think "everybody is doing it." Preteens often believe that more kids their own age drink than who actually do. Helping your child learn that he or she can make their own decisions, about clothes, sports or other activities they enjoy, even if "everyone else isn't doing it", will help him or her in making the decision not to drink. n