Welcome to the big league of parenting. Your â€˜tweens and teens need to know where you stand on drinking. And they need to hear it from YOU.
“I find the best opportunity to discuss important topics in a non-confrontational way is in the car,” says Ellyn E., a mother of two, ages 12 and 13. “I now see my â€˜chauffeur role’ as a blessing, because it gives me one-on-one time with each of my kids.â€
Ellyn – who prefers to remain anonymous so she doesn’t embarrass her kids – is experiencing what a lot of parents with ‘tweens and teens are: the need to communicate with her kids but the conflict that it’s nearly impossible to find a moment to do so. Especially since our society – and especially our teen culture – tends to glamorize “partying,” (thanks, Paris) it’s become vital that parents at least make the effort to have a “get real” conversation with their kids.
In the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 10.8 million respondents between the ages of 12 and 20 reported consuming alcohol in the past month. That figure represents a third of children in that age group. Sixty-five percent of those who admitted they drink reported getting alcohol from family and friends – whether stealing from parents’ coffers or enlisting an older sibling or friend to make a purchase for them.
Clearly, ‘tweens and teens face the issue in their social lives, and it is the wise parent who begins offering information and support to her kids before the question comes up in their circle of friends.
Remember that your preteen or young teenager is going through physical changes that demand her attention daily. Add to this the natural, healthy need to begin to pull away from parental dependence, and you have a recipe for impulse in the child if there’s no strategy in place for her to manage peer pressure in the teen drinking domain.
How to Start Talking
Ellyn has a plan that works for her and her kids. “While making the 15-minute drive to the soccer field, we can talk about heavy subjects. We all know that the conversation won’t last forever since we’re on our way to an event, and the time limit seems to make our conversation go more smoothly – I can hit the high points quickly.” Sometimes it may feel like you’re overdoing it, but Ellyn has been reassured more than once that she wasn’t.
“Often, my kids will come to me later to discuss something I brought up in the car. Maybe because they’re in a position of needing me for transportation, they accept my guidance more easily. In any event, it works for my family,” she adds.
For the parent who isn’t around her child as much, knowing how to leap into a serious talk about alcohol isn’t so easy.
The Century Council is a not-for-profit agency dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking. In the pamphlet titled How to Talk to Your Adolescent About Alcohol, the following suggestions make up a three-step process:
- ASK your child about her views on drinking.
- LISTEN carefully to her answer, and don’t criticize her views. Make it a discussion, not a debate or lecture.
- LEARN from each other. If you’ve followed steps one and two, you have initiated a conversation. In addition to giving you a forum to pass on what you know about alcohol, you have also created an atmosphere where your child feels safe discussing the issue with you.
How Much Should You Say?
Once you’ve found the opportunity, speak your beliefs about underage drinking clearly. Give clear evidence for your value judgments, including physical reactions, loss of mental control and even possible death from overdose or wreckless driving. Tell them about the consequences others have had from starting to drink alcohol too early in life. Stress the fact that chemicals change the way you think and act.
Remind your child about DUIs, date rape and fatal car accidents. Don’t coddle them from the dark side of drinking. Run through the facts that even “good” kids can get in trouble when they add alcohol. It is, after all, a drug.
If you have alcoholism in your family, don’t assume that the child is learning to abstain because a loved one has hurt him in the past.
“I hated that my mom got drunk every night,” says 13-year-old Katie, a member of Ala-teen. “But when my friends stole some vodka from their parents’ liquor cabinet, I drank it with them anyway,” she says.
Alcoholism is a family disease. If a parent, uncle or sibling had cancer, you would help your child understand the disease concept. Do the same for your child with alcoholism. Too often, we deny or avoid talking about difficult situations to avoid pain. This is a mistake once a child has become old enough to be approached with liquor by his peers. Your secrets will keep your family sick, and their unspoken messages are often repeated by the next generation.
What If Your Child Already Has a Problem?
If your child has already begun experimenting with alcohol or other drugs, seek help. Check out the sidebar for local outreaches designed to assist families in crisis. This may be a phase, but it may be a disease. Are you willing to risk your child’s health by avoiding conflict?
‘Tweens and young teens are still crying for healthy boundaries. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your role is that of a friend. Your role is that of a parent.
“I didn’t want anyone to know about Tommy’s drinking,” says one mom. “I saw his grades slipping, and I couldn’t get him to come home on time, but I wanted him to think I was still a cool mother, so I didn’t make a big deal about it. When he was in a car accident with an older boy driving drunk, I realized I needed to get him some help,” she adds.
If you don’t talk to your kids about alcohol, someone else will. Older children still need direction from parents, and you can make the difference in your teen’s world now.
Beth Eriksen is a freelance writer.
Teen Drinking Snapshot
The 2003 Youth and Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students:
- 1 out of 2 drink some amount of alcohol
- 1 out of 4 binge drink
- 1 out of 4 had their first alcoholic drink before age 13
- 1 out of 10 drove after drinking alcohol
- 1 out of 3 rode with a driver who had been drinking
Help for Your TeenAlateen
333-6066 • middletnalanon.org
Teen support for parents in rehab.
Alcohol & Drug Council of
269-0029 • acdmt.org
Information, prevention and recovery services.
DeDe Wallace Centers
460-6000 • centerstone.org
Drug/alcohol treatment, crisis intervention.
Focus Adolescent Services
Online clearinghouse of info, resources and support for parents of teens covering all topics.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving
360-8055 • maddtn.org
Public awareness programs and more to keep drunk drivers off the road.