What Should I Tell My Children About Drinking

Children see drinking all around them - at home, in restaurants, at family celebrations and on television - and they are naturally curious about alcohol and the way it affects people. You should always answer your child's questions honestly, but you also should be prepared to initiate discussions about alcohol.

Some parents say that because alcohol is a legal drug, it's hard for them to think of it as being dangerous. Other parents say they find it difficult to talk about alcohol because they drink. Yet, alcohol is the drug Most often used by young people and the consequences of its use can be harmful to your child in many ways.

It's never too early to start talking with your child about drinking. Some children start asking questions when they're four or five years old. Many parents make the mistake of waiting until their child has begun drinking but if you listen and respond to your child sensitively, you may be able to help prevent problems from developing later.

Don't Wait Until They Are "Old Enough" to Give Them the Facts


Ages 5-9


As the parent of a 5- to 9-year old, you can begin the process of teaching your child about alcohol. Children in this age group need rules to guide their behavior and information to make good choices and decisions. Talk about alcohol in the "here and now" and focus on events and people your child knows. For example, be honest in explaining why you or other adults may choose to drink, but emphasize positive reasons for your child to wait before starting to drink. One reason could be the importance of learning to talk through their problems instead of turning to alcohol. Another might be learning how to make difficult decisions with a clear head and learning to feel good about the decisions they make.

When your child sees you or another adult drinking at a party or celebration, explain that some adults choose to drink while others don't - but that drinking is a decision that should be made when people are older. Remember that the older your child is before he or she starts drinking, the greater the chances that fewer problems will develop.

If you and your child are walking in the street together and see someone who is drunk, explain that getting drunk is never a good thing to do and can be dangerous. Explain to your child that many people who get drunk a lot may have an illness called alcoholism.

Young children are also very interested in learning how their bodies work. Talk to them about

maintaining good health and avoiding things that harm the body - especially bodies that are still growing. Encourage your children to see that if they can get through the difficulties of growing up without drinking, they will be able to face anything, including the decision whether or not drink!

The Challenge: Coping With the New Independence


Ages 10-12


As the parent of a pre-teen, you have a special opportunity. Your child is in the "in-between" age - old enough to understand many adult subjects, but still young enough to accept your guidance willingly. This is a time when you can openly discuss the dangers of drinking with your child and prepare him or her to resist the pressure to drink that will come in the near future - if they aren't being pressured already.

No matter what the age of your children, they are more likely to talk with you about problems - about alcohol or other drug use as well as other important issues - if they feel you really listen. Sometimes, just listening to your child shows more concern than trying to give too much advice, being critical or treating your child's problems too lightly.

Try never to be judgmental or hypocritical about alcohol and remember that your own drinking behavior heavily influences how well your child will observe the household rules you establish. It's OK to drink in front of your child, but be aware that your child will observe how and when you drink. Do you use alcohol to reduce tension or to celebrate? Do you drive, boat or swim after drinking? Monitoring the quantity and frequency of your drinking as well as being sure that you don't drink and then engage in potentially dangerous activities all set good examples for your child.

Other ways you can be a good role model are to:
  • Always provide nonalcoholic drinks at parties in your home for guests who prefer them
  • Show that drinking is not the focus of activity
  • Discourage drunken behavior
  • Make sure that alcohol-impaired friends don't drive themselves home
Get to know your child's friends. Some of them may think that drinking isn't a problem and their parents may not have the information you now do. They may allow their children to drink and may allow parties in their homes where children have access to alcohol. If your child has been invited to a party at the home of a friend you don't know, call the friend's parents ahead of time to be sure that adults will be present. Ask their attitudes about alcohol before you make a decision about allowing your child to attend the party.

In spite of your best efforts, your child will see and hear many "mixed messages" about drinking through advertising, television programs and movies. Estimates are that children will see over 75,000 drinking scenes before they turn 18 but they probably still won't know much about alcoholic beverages or the serious health problems that they can cause. Most children do not understand that standard servings of distilled spirits, wine, beer and wine coolers all contain the same amount of alcohol. Explain that wine coolers or beer often consumed by minors - can get you just as drunk as so-called "hard" liquor and do the same damage to the body.

Continue to educate your child about the importance of maintaining good health psychological, emotional and physical. You can be your child's best teacher. Even if your child's school offers an alcohol and drug education curriculum, your child needs consistent information and support at home as well as in school. Your willingness to listen to your children's problems and feelings will help them develop a sense of confidence in themselves. It will help them develop the coping skills they need for dealing with anger, stress, loneliness and disappointment without turning to alcohol.

Children do pressure others their own age to drink. Your child needs to know that he or she doesn't have to do something - including drinking - just because they think "everybody is doing it." Preteens often believe that more kids their own age drink than who actually do. Helping your child learn that he or she can make their own decisions - about clothes, sports or other activities they enjoy - even if "everyone else isn't doing it" will help him or her in making the decision not to drink.

You Should be Ready to Talk When They Think They're Ready to Drink


Ages 13-18


As the parent of a teenager, both you and your child face many challenges regarding drinking. During the early teen years, your child may drink to "fit in" with other children his or her own age. Make it clear that they are not permitted to drink under any circumstances and lot them know you trust them not to. Children may be less likely to betray their parents! trust than to break a rule.

Teens realize that their actions have consequences. Talk about possible consequences with them, recognizing that certain consequences will differ for sons and daughters. Discuss how drinking:
  • Can interfere with getting good grades in school
  • Can negatively affect athletic performance
  • Can make teens more vulnerable to unplanned sexual activity, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Can cause accidents when driving, bicycling, swimming; can increase violent behavior
  • Can intensify feelings of loneliness and contribute to attempted suicide
Talking about these potential consequences of drinking will make it easier for your child to talk with you whenever problems arise. Your child also may want to talk with you about their friends and their concerns regarding their friends' drinking. Listen carefully and remember that your child probably is just as concerned as you are about some of the problems that alcohol causes.

Let your child know that you want them to be able to be "in control" so they can make the best possible decisions for themselves in any situation. Talk about how drinking can take away anyone's ability to be in control.

No matter how well you communicate with your child, sooner or later he or she will be faced with friends who are drinking. Help build your children's self-reliance by asking , them how they plan to deal with such situations as being offered alcohol at a party or being offered a ride home by someone who has been drinking. Discussing this ahead of time may give teens more confidence to handle these situations.

As teens get older continue to support them in healthful decisions they make. Recognize that your child will be pressured to drink, and that at any time they are able to assert themselves and not drink, they deserve your encouragement.

From: Talking with Children.