Today is St. Patrick’s day … a day of celebration, parties and all around good cheer.  You may have worn green today and may be planning to hit a party this evening to celebrate.  St. Patrick’s day is fun, but what kind of message are teenagers receiving on a holiday that is traditionally steeped in green beer?  While as adults, we certainly have the right to partake in social festivities that involve social drinking, but are you wondering how you should talk to your kids about alcohol?

A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show some rather startling statistics for teenage drinking. Alcohol is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths in underage youth and people aged 12 to 20 drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States annually. And, on average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per occasion than adult drinkers.  Some other eye-opening stats?  A recent study showed that 35% of high school students drank some amount of alcohol in the prior 30 days, with 21% of those students binge drinking. Here is the really scary stuff … 10% drove after drinking and 22% rode with a driver who had been drinking.

Ready to start the conversation with your kids about alcohol?  We know what you’re thinking, and we agree. It’s never an easy conversation to have, so here are a five tips to help you get started:

  • Use a natural and neutral setting to talk to your kids about alcohol. Bring it up before an issue arises, such as casually at dinner or in the car when you are commuting to and from an activity. By bringing up the subject of drinking in a casual manner, your child is less likely to feel as if they are being ambushed or accused.
  • Explain to your kids the laws surrounding alcohol and why they are in place. For some youth, they may not understand why drinking is okay for mom and dad, but not them. Helping them understand that their bodies and brains are still developing, and the negative impacts alcohol can have on their development, can help them understand why social drinking for adults is accepted, but not okay for kids.
  • “Just Say No,” may be good in theory, but it’s just not that realistic. There is a strong chance that your child, despite your best efforts, may experiment with alcohol. Young people need to understand that if they do find themselves in a situation involving alcohol, that you will be there for them without anger and judgment. As a parent, you need to set boundaries and let them know of your expectations, while also letting them know that they can call you should they find themselves in drinking environment that makes them uncomfortable or could cause them harm.
  • Peer pressure can get the best of any young person, no matter how much you’ve talked to them about drugs and alcohol. Roll playing with your kids is a great way to help them build the confidence needed to avoid yielding to peer pressure.  Yes, it will likely be awkward in the beginning and there may even be some giggling involved. However, chances are you remember the party you went to in eighth grade or the homecoming football game in high school where a wine cooler was passed your way.  Tap into those feelings and memories and use your experience gained to help your kids avoid being pressured into drinking.
  • Don’t be afraid to partner and communicate with the parents of your children’s friends. They’re likely freaking out about how to talk to their kids about alcohol as well, and by sharing core values, you can help monitor each other’s kids and stop the “but everyone’ else’s parents let them do it” comment dead in its tracks.

And, of course, leading by example never hurts.  Even if your children are quite young, they will look to see how you interact with alcohol.  While a glass of wine or two after a stressful day may seem harmless enough, think of what kind of message you may be sending.  Showing your kids at an early age that alcohol isn’t needed to relax or have fun may help them have a better relationship with alcohol in the future.

While YouthZone is here for the children in our community, we’re here for parents, too!  There are a number of resources available for parents who are ready to talk to their kids about alcohol, or who may be have a child who has already begun to drink.  We are here to help.