Answering Tough Questions About Alcohol
June 28, 2013 | Falmouth Enterprise
By Dr. Michael Bihari
The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the National Institutes of Health and the federal agency that partially funds the Falmouth Prevention Partnership, has launched an underage drinking prevention campaign to help parents and caregivers start talking to their children early—as early as nine years old—about the dangers of alcohol.
The following information is an edited version of one of the public service announcements from SAMHSA and is an appropriate followup to our previous June articles about summer drinking.
As your children become curious about alcohol, they may turn to you for answers and advice. Use this opportunity to start an open, honest conversation about drinking. Because some questions can be difficult to answer, it is important to be prepared. The following are some common questions and answers about underage drinking.
“I got invited to a party. Can I go?”
Ask your child if an adult will be present at the party or if she thinks children will be drinking. Remind your child that even being at a party where there is underage drinking can get him into trouble. Use this time to establish or reinforce your rules about alcohol and outline the behavior you expect.
“Did you drink when you were a kid?”
Don’t let your past stop you from talking to your child about underage drinking. If you drank as a teenager, be honest. Acknowledge that it was risky. Make sure to emphasize that we now know even more about the risks to children who drink underage. You could even give your child an example of a painful moment that occurred because of your underage drinking.
“Why do you drink?”
Make a distinction between alcohol use among children and among adults. Explain to your child your reasons for drinking: whether it is to enhance a meal, share good times with friends, or celebrate a special occasion. Point out that if you choose to drink, it is always in moderation, and that you never drive after having a drink. Tell your child that some people should not drink at all, including underage children.
“What if my friends ask me to drink?”
Helping your child say “no” to peer pressure is one of the most important things you can do to keep him alcohol-free. Work with your child to think of a way to handle this situation, whether it is simply saying, “No, I don’t drink,” or saying, “I promised my parents that I wouldn’t drink.”
“You drink alcohol, so why can’t I?”
Remind your child that underage drinking is against the law, and for good reason. Point out that adults are fully developed mentally and physically so they can handle drinking. Children’s minds and bodies, however, are still growing, so alcohol can have a greater effect on their judgment and health.
“Why is alcohol bad for me?”
Don’t try to scare your children about drinking or tell them, “You can’t handle it.” Instead, tell your kids that alcohol can be bad for their growing brain, interferes with judgment, and can make them sick. Once children hear the facts and your opinions about underage drinking, it is easier for you to make rules and enforce them.
Share the following resources with your kids. They provide age-appropriate information about underage drinking:
- KidsHealth Alcohol: Information about alcohol use for preteens.
- The Cool Spot: The young teen’s place for info on alcohol and resisting peer pressure.
- Alcohol Self-Test for Teens: An online self-survey on how alcohol and drugs may be affecting a teen’s life?