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Talk, They Hear You

January 16, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Research shows that parents are the #1 reason young people decide not to drink. So, start talking to your children about alcohol before they start drinking—as early as 9 years old. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, they really do hear you.

Talk, They Hear You is a campaign of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that helps parents and caregivers start talking to their children early—as early as 9 years old—about the dangers of alcohol. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.  

Although the local media continues to be full of stories about heroin overdoses and a great deal of attention (and money) is being rightfully focused on the increase in opiate addiction, we should not lose sight of the fact that for kids less than age 18, alcohol continues to be the the most abused substance. And, our kids who go off to college are often faced with a culture of binge drinking.

This article and several upcoming Risky Business articles will focus on what you, as a parent, can do to help prevent underage drinking. The material is excerpts from the SAMHSA, Talk, They Hear You campaign.    

Answering Your Child's Tough Questions About Alcohol

As your child becomes curious about alcohol, he or she 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 he or she thinks children will be drinking. Remind your child that even being at a party where there is underage drinking can get him or her 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. 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 or her 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 mom (or dad) 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 child about drinking or tell him or her, “You can’t handle it.” Instead, tell your child that alcohol can be bad for his or her growing brain, interferes with judgment, and can make him or her sick. Once children hear the facts and your opinions about them, it is easier for you to make rules and enforce them.

Why You Should Talk With Your Child About Alcohol

The chance that your children will use alcohol increases as they get older. About 10 percent of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol, but by age 15, that number jumps to 50 percent. The sooner you talk to your children about alcohol, the greater chance you have of influencing their decisions about drinking.

 As a parent you play a critical role in your children’s decision to experiment with alcohol. Studies have shown that parents have a significant influence on young people’s decisions about alcohol consumption, especially when parents create supportive and nurturing environments in which their children can make their own decisions. In fact, around 80 percent of children feel that parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol.

The conversation about drinking is often more effective before your kids start drinking.If you talk to your kids directly and honestly, they are more likely to respect your rules and advice about alcohol use. When parents know about underage alcohol use, they can protect their children from many of the high-risk behaviors associated with it.

Some children may try alcohol as early as 9 years old. Most 6-year-olds know that alcohol is only for adults. Between the ages of 9 and 13, children start to view alcohol more positively. Many children begin to think underage drinking is OK. Some even start to experiment. It is never too early to talk to your children about alcohol.

If you do not talk about drinking, you are still saying something. What you say to your children about alcohol is up to you. But remember, parents who do not discourage underage drinking may have an indirect influence on their children’s alcohol use.

Recommended Resources

Underage Drinking: Information from the National Library of Medicine

Kids and Alcohol: Information for parents from KidsHealth.org

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