Taking the First Step
Whether you're a parent, relative or just someone who cares about a child's well-being, it's important to address underage drinking. Why? Because kids say parental disapproval is a key reason they choose not to drink before age 21. (Source: Start Talking Before They Start Drinking)
Try these conversation starters and tips to initiate conversations about underage drinking with the children who are close to you.
Talking for the First Time About Underage Drinking
Ask open-ended questions and then listen. Resist the temptation to dominate the conversation.
"What's on your mind?"
"I've been thinking lately that I've never actually told you that I don't want you using alcohol or any other drugs. The rule in our house is that minors do not drink alcohol. What do you think about that?"
"Teens today are using drugs at younger and younger ages; I hope you know how I feel about that. I don't want you drinking. Do you understand why?"
"I'm always going to stand by you, love and guide you, but I do not want you drinking alcohol. I don't want you making the wrong choice and then having to pay serious consequences for bad decisions at such a young age."
After Underage Drinking Has Occurred
Address the situation immediately. Keep calm, and avoid making threats or entering into power struggles. Ask the child why they wanted to drink or get drunk. Explain the dangers.
"Let's talk about how you got alcohol and how it makes you feel. What do you hope to gain from drinking at your age? Did you know that you and I could be arrested if you drink?"
"I'm really disappointed. You know I don't approve of underage drinking. I don't know everything, but I do know it's physically and mentally harmful for you at this age."
"This is a critical time in your growth and your brain is still developing. Don't you want to give yourself the best chance to lead a healthy, balanced life? I don't approve or tolerate this."
"Your friends are wrong—everyone is not doing it. It's illegal and harmful, and you need to realize that underage drinking is the wrong choice."
When to Talk
There are lots of moments each day to teach a child life lessons. Children whose parents are involved in their lives—holding regular conversations, attending after school events, listening to their problems—are less likely to drink. Think about speaking to a child:
- While watching television shows or movies together
- While cooking or eating dinner
- After a school sporting event or activity
- While reading about teen issues/current events
It's important for families to eat dinner together. Teens who have infrequent family dinners (two or fewer per week) are twice as likely to smoke daily and get drunk monthly, compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (at least five per week), according to an August 2006 article by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.
In the 2008 Montana Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA) Survey, a question was added asking students to indicate how many times in a typical week their family ate dinner together. Eating dinner with your family represents a bonding opportunity between parents and youth—a time to communicate, spend time with each other, and/or a time for parents to monitor the activities of their children.
The results of the Montana PNA indicate that higher numbers of family dinners each week is linked to lower substance use rates. For example, of students who indicated that they ate no meals with their family in a typical week, 40.0% of them had used alcohol in the past month; whereas only 21.5% of youth who indicated they had eaten dinner with their family seven nights a week indicated using alcohol in the past month. Similar trends are seen for lifetime and past month use of all substances, with use rates gradually decreasing with more family dinners a week.
Compared to parents who say their families have dinners together frequently, those who have infrequent family dinners are:
- Five times more likely to say they have a fair or poor relationship with their teen;
- One-and-a-half times more likely to say they do not know the parents of their teen's friends very well or not at all;
- More than twice as likely to say they do not know the names of their teen's teachers; and
- Twice as likely to say that parents deserve not very much blame or no blame at all when a teenager uses illegal drugs.
(Source: Importance of Family Dinners V, CASA, 2009)
Need to reach your children when they're not home? Try sending a text message to their phone. Here's how.
What to Do in Your Home
In the home, take these steps:
Set a good example for your children regarding the use of alcohol. Don't over-consume in front of them and explain the difference between responsible adult consumption versus being drunk. Tell them what limits you draw for yourself when it comes to drinking in public or at home, as well as how you act responsibly to not drink and drive.
Encourage your children to talk with you about their problems and concerns.
Talk to other parents about ways to send a consistent, clear message that underage drinking is not acceptable behavior or a "rite of passage." Share this Web site and its resources with them.
Encourage your children to participate in supervised activities and events that are challenging, fun and alcohol-free. Set rules about your child's conduct in others' homes and when away from your home. Draw the line.
Get to know your children's friends and discuss ways your children can avoid drinking when they feel pressured by peers. Help them decide ahead of time how they will exit a situation that is uncomfortable, unsafe or against your rules.
Learn the warning signs that indicate your children may be drinking and act promptly to get help.
Make sure you're at home for all of your children's parties and be sure those parties are alcohol free. Remember the law and that it's illegal to serve alcohol at your home to anyone under age 21.
Demonstrate how you draw the line by not letting adult friends drink and drive, or drive after they have been drinking at your home.