Out of all of the dangers and hazards facing our children as they grow up these days, alcohol is one of the most common and complicated challenges. With peer pressure and parties where alcohol inevitably makes an appearance, it can be hard for teens to avoid running into it. Many parents have alcohol in the home and may drink regularly too, so the ethics around the issue are complicated. It can be hard to convince a teen that it’s better to leave alcohol alone when they don’t just see peers but their own family or other students’ family drinking beer, wine or liquor.
Despite it being illegal for kids under 21, many teens find ways to regularly acquire alcohol, no matter what. In fact, studies have shown that around 80% of high school students have at least tried alcohol. We have to accept that our kids will have access to alcohol, and that many will succumb to temptation and at least try it. Our priority as parents shouldn’t be to obsessively try to cut off all potential access to alcohol but to prepare our kids to make those decisions and deal with alcohol themselves. If we keep our kids away from alcohol but never actually talk to them about what safe and moderate drinking practices actually look like, they’ll be unprepared and likely to make poor decisions when they actually reach the legal drinking age. Let’s have those conversations now and help our kids learn how to drink safely.
Be Realistic and Direct About the Consequences
Family values may differ, but most people should be able to agree that alcohol is not in itself an immoral thing. If an adult who takes drink is not a bad person, then a teen who does the same is not a bad kid. Sometimes as parents we let our moral outrage and shock control our reactions to issues around alcohol, but we need to move past this to be able to speak rationally with our kids. “Alcohol is not evil,” says Steven Adams, founder of Not Guilty Adams. “However, it can lead to serious and lasting consequences both for the kids who drink and for the people around them.” Those concerns are what you should talk to your kids about.
Tell your teens about the legal consequences if they are ever caught with alcohol, and make sure they’re informed about the dangers of forming an alcohol habit or drinking too much. Instead of imposing strict rules like “never drink alcohol,” consider having an open conversation and then explaining a few specific concrete boundaries before you impose them. Make sure your teen fully understands the legal and personal danger of drinking and driving as well, and you might even consider having your son or daughter sign a contract promising never to drink and drive.
Prepare Them and Then Be Prepared to Trust
Now that you’ve had the conversation about the dangers of alcohol and allowed your teen to speak about their perspective as well, it’s now your job to make sure you give your child tools to be able to cope with or avoid these risks. Don’t just drop this all on them and then leave them to fend for themselves! It may feel wrong to speak so frankly about alcohol use, but you can’t avoid your child ever ending up in these situations, so it’s important that they’re prepared. Teach your child how long alcohol takes to enter the bloodstream and encourage them to drink slowly and count drinks. Tell them how to protect their drinks and guard against the dangers of date-rape.
And most importantly, you can give your kids tactics in advance to avoid drinking and driving or to avoid getting in a car driven by someone else who has been drinking. Many parents give their kids codewords or phrases to use as an emergency call for help in such situations. However, before you do this, make sure you are confident you can follow through on the promise you are making. If you tell your child that emergency call won’t result in punishment or a mountain of questions, you have to live up to that promise. You are learning to trust your teenager, and they need to be able to trust you as well. Another easy solution is to give your teen the phone number and cash for an emergency taxi ride.