Tuesday, September 29, 2015

5 Tips to Help with the Underage Drinking Talk with Your Kids

Seventeen-year-old Amber, circa. 2009.
When my oldest daughter Amber, now 24, was in high school she was confronted with her own mortality when a classmate was killed in a drunk driving accident. We had already talked about underage drinking and the importance of not getting in the car with someone who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And, of course, I let her know that regardless of the situation she can always call me for a ride. Now, I have three younger children ages 11, 10 and 9, and as my almost 12-year-old son approaches teenage hood I’m prepared to have a conversation about underage drinking.

I’ve done a little reading on the subject over the years along with my own experiences and that of their older sister to be fairly confident I have this conversation “on lock.” (That’s what the children say nowadays.) There are a lot of tips and advice, the ones I’ve included here are the ones I think are good tips for having the underage drinking talk with your kids. They tips should be effective and they may actually remember them longer than, “Watch me whip, watch me Nae Nae, watch me whip. Whip. Watch me Nae Nae.”

#1 Pick the perfect person to have the talk
The first thing with having any conversation about responsibility and making smart decisions with children is to make sure that the person they’re talking to is someone that they have a good relationship with and above all, that they respect. If you’re fortunate enough to have an open relationship with your kids like I've had with Amber, then it can be you. But an older sibling, a grandparent, a trusted family friend or even a coach or tutor will also work.

#2 Keep the conversation casual
The worst way to get your kids to pay attention to an important message is for them to feel like it’s a lecture or something that they have to listen to. It may seem hard to make a planned conversation seem casual but find an opening that is as natural as possible. My kids and I talk so much that there’s always normally an opening for something important. On the other hand, when I had to talk to my son about a delicate situation I just went for it. Jump in with both feet and don’t be scared. Control your emotions and be sure to put the lecture voice away. Don’t say, ‘I don’t have a lecture voice,’ because you do and your children know it.

#3 It’s about the kids
At the onset of the conversation, find out how your children feel about alcohol and underage drinking. Give them a chance be open about their feelings and opinions. This is one of the reasons why the conversation has to be with someone the kids trust wholeheartedly. If they think they have to tell a few white lies or else they'd get in trouble, then you won’t find out how they really feel, and you probably won’t get your message across. To keep the conversation relaxed you can take them out for pizza or something else fun they’d enjoy. (Bonus tip #1: plan in advance so you can use coupons and promo codes. Financial ease always makes for more relaxed conversations.)

#4 Share facts and debunk myths
Explain to your children that alcohol is a drug, and it affects your mind and your body, sometimes in ways that you aren’t expecting. Make it clear that age doesn’t protect you from alcoholism. There are children as young as 10 that have, and are, being treated for alcoholism. This is especially important if there is a history of alcohol abuse in your family. Many children believe alcohol will make them cool or happy. Just explain to them that it isn’t a magic potion that will make everything that seems wrong in their lives appear right.

#5 Offer tips for how they’ll deal with alcohol and drinking
Telling your kids to just say no is not going to work. Unfortunately, there are going to be times that the temptation to say yes far outweighs the will to say no. They should know:
1) Never get into a car with a driver who has been drinking.
2) If they find themselves in that situation they must call you.
3) And if they’re the person who has been drinking, they should not be afraid to call you for help. If that happens, wait until the next day to discuss punishments or consequences.
 
There you have it, just a few of the best tips to handle the underage drinking conversation with your children. (Bonus tip #2: save your drinking stories for when they’re adults. If you don’t, stories like that can have a counterproductive effect.) Good luck, because with kids you’re always going to need it.