Talking about alcohol to your child can not happen too early. As your child approaches pre-teen years, they begin to develop questions about alcohol. Subsequently, they get curious enough to want to try it. According to Monitoring the Future (MTF), a long-term study of American adolescents and college students, about 10% of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol. By age 15, that number jumps to 50%. Additionally, by the time they are seniors, almost 70% of high school students will have tried alcohol. Affecting this trajectory of children’s drinking begins with parents having a conversation about it. It is also important that you are aware of the effect of your own childhood and let this cloud what is best for your child.
Parents are in the best position to influence their children when it comes to alcohol. Or anything, for that matter. That’s why it’s exceedingly crucial for parents to build a strong and open relationship with their children. A core parenting skill is having difficult conversations with your child. An open relationship allows children and teenagers to easily approach parents with any questions or challenges. While it is true that children and teenagers can be frustratingly difficult, they do look up to their parents and want to do what they say. So if a parent talks to their child about alcohol, honestly and directly, chances are they’ll listen. Though it may not seem like it at that moment. Alcohol can not be taken in isolation. You might also be interested in these related articles: The dangers of drugs, when to intervene in a destructive friendship and curfews.
Why Teenagers Want to Drink Alcohol
Teen and pre-teen years come with a lot of changes. Their bodies are changing within and without. They’re developing a keener sense of the world, and there’s the mounting peer pressure. It’s like a rollercoaster for your child, and they especially need your guidance and support during this time. To provide this effectively, you need to understand why they might want to drink alcohol. Below are a few reasons. They are similar to other non-illegal substances like vaping.
- They see your drinking habits. As previously mentioned, your child looks up to you before anyone else. One of the effects of drinking around children is that they mimic your relationship with alcohol. If you drink all the time, your child takes note of this. They observe to see when you drink and the quantity you consume. Do you drink whenever you’re upset, sad, or happy? How much do you drink? Is it a part of your everyday routine? You may not even realize that they’re observing you. But ultimately, your drinking habits inform their relationship with alcohol. That’s how a parent’s drinking affects their child.
- They want to belong. Teenagers care a lot about their social groups in school and elsewhere. They want to belong and be accepted by their peers. But unfortunately, this desire to belong can push a teenager to drink alcohol. Most of these social groups in school drink as they hang out or party. Your teenager doesn’t want to be the odd person out, neither do they want to seem like a buzzkill or a spoilsport. They fear that if they try to stand out, their social groups might ostracise them.
- They want to escape or self-medicate. Just like adults, teenagers sometimes turn to alcohol for escape. Teenage years come with peculiar frustrations most teenagers struggle to handle. When they don’t have an outlet for that frustration, alcohol can begin to look like the best option. A guarantee of fun and laughter. This is why parents need to have an open relationship with their teens. This kind of close relationship allows parents to know when their children are going through stress. They can help them self-regulate, preventing them from turning to alcohol.
- They want to appear grown up. Physically, many teenagers outgrow their parents. There’s always this urgency for teens to want to present as adults. From their perspective, these adult activities look cool. Additionally, they also want people around them to start treating them like adults. Alcohol is one way a teenager might want to signal their adulthood to those whose respect they crave.
Effects of Alcohol on Children and Teenagers
The effects of alcohol on children are manifold. Alcohol can affect a child’s brain, resulting in a lot of dysfunctions. Likewise, having a heavy drinker for a parent also affects children and teenagers in negative ways. Talking about alcohol to your child is the first step. An international review of studies on the effects of parents’ excessive drinking on children and teenagers found that it increases health risk significantly. Such risks include diminished intellectual capacity and development, increased neuroticism, and a wide range of psychological and behavioral disorders.
Similarly, direct alcohol consumption also has severe effects on children’s and teenagers’ brains. According to a National Health and Medical Research Council study, during teenage years, alcohol affects the hippocampus and prefrontal lobe, two crucial parts of the brain. Alcohol reduces the size of the hippocampus by 10% and may also poison the nerve cell, causing severe damage. The same reduction happens to the prefrontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and decision-making.
Changes to these parts of the brain result in the following.
- Reduces attention span
- Poor decision-making
- Lack of coordination
- Sleep disruption
- Elevated liver enzymes, leading to liver damage
- Slurred speech
- Poor vision
- Disruption of hormonal balance, leading to slow muscle and bone development
- Slower reactions
- Delayed maturation of reproductive systems
- Memory loss
- Altered perceptions
- Distorted vision
How to Have Conversation About Alcohol With Your Child
As a parent, you can influence your child through conversations on alcohol. Talking about alcohol to your child is the first step in preventing underage children from drinking alcohol. Below are ways to go about it.
- Find a good time. Timing matters if you want to have a fruitful conversation. Idle or casual moments are ideal for discussions. They allow both of you to listen and chip in because your minds aren’t engaged in other serious activities. You might not have your child’s full attention if you start a conversation about alcohol in the middle of another discussion. Likewise, when they’re preparing for school or doing their schoolwork.
- Start conversation early. You need to start conversations early, even before your child gets curious about alcohol. Then keep the conversation going as they grow. One conversation isn’t enough to cover everything about alcohol. Conversational triggers help to start conversations at different points. These triggers include characters on TV, something about alcohol in the news, or a celebrity scandal.
- Find out what they think about alcohol. Finding out what your child thinks and knows about alcohol is a vital part of the conversation. You can’t correct misconceptions if you don’t hear from your child. In your conversations, ask them what they know about alcohol. What do they think about teenagers or children drinking alcohol? Why do they think teenagers drink? This gives your child the opportunity to express themself. They feel heard and respected. If there are misconceptions to correct, keep your tone casual and without judgment.
- Straighten the facts. There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding alcohol and its usage. For example, coffee or a cold shower doesn’t flush out alcohol from a person’s system. Neither is beer or wine safer than distilled spirits such as whiskey, vodka, or gin. Your teenager could easily pick up some of this misinformation. This is something you need to make part of the conversation. It’s alright if you don’t know everything about alcohol. You can take some time to find out.
- Answer their questions. Talking about alcohol to your child is not one way. Your child is going to have questions, and you need to answer them as best you can. One of the questions parents dread from their children is whether they drank alcohol before the legal age. This is the most likely question your child will ask. Many parents stumble here because they don’t want to be hypocrites, nor do they want to lie. If you did do some underage drinking, you can tell your child. Be honest, maybe there were some times it was enjoyable, maybe it also led to several situations that still haunt you now. Showing a balanced opinion will make it more valid and, therefore, likely to be taken on board.
How to Introduce and Teach Your Child Responsible Alcohol Use
Talking about alcohol to your child might mean that you want to introduce your child to alcohol is a significant decision. Many parents are torn on when the right time is to introduce teenagers to alcohol. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that you delay initiation to alcohol for as long as possible. This is because your teen’s brain continues to develop until their early 20s. During this time, alcohol can alter the development of the brain, stunting the maturation of vital parts.
The discussion on whether parents should even introduce their teenagers to alcohol is an open one. Many people think it wise to introduce their children to alcohol as a way of promoting responsible drinking. But some disagree. “Deciding whether you want to introduce your child to alcohol or not has to come down to every parent in a way because every child is different and every family culture is different,” says Mandy Saligari, therapist, author, and Clinical Director of Charter Harley Street. “You want to look at how mature your child is and how able they are to recognize that what they’re doing is taking on board a substance which will change how they feel, how they think, and their subsequent behavior.”
Eventually, if you decide to introduce your child to alcohol, you need to do it in small amounts. Give them the drink alongside food so the alcohol can interact with the food. Importantly, you need to make it clear to your child that they’re not allowed to drink alone.
Below are a few safety measures and considerations when giving your child alcohol.
- Make sure your child knows the safe limits. If they’re under 18, they should never go above two standard drinks.
- Before introducing your child to alcohol, you need to consider your relationship with alcohol. If your relationship with alcohol isn’t healthy, chances are your child might go the same way.
- You need to consider the drink you want to start the introduction with. Starting with something mild is your best bet.
- Explain to your child why you’re introducing them to alcohol. Your child also needs to know the effects of alcohol. Make it clear that alcohol isn’t something they turn to when they go through stress or emotional problems. That’s just a temporary fix that will most likely make things worse.
Final Thoughts About Talking About Alcohol to Your Child
While parents still have to have strict rules around underage drinking, it may be comforting to know that young people seem to be generally drinking less. In the 1990s, drinking was a part of daily living for young people. But in recent years, there has been a sharp decline in alcohol consumption due to a few reasons. Young people have become more aware of the dangers of alcohol. Plus, drinking is no longer considered a rite of passage into adulthood. What constitutes masculinity and femininity have become more fluid.