Thursday, April 19, 2012

Teen Drinking may not be just a phase...

April is Alcohol Awareness Month.  

Though parents shouldn't need a reminder to talk to their kids about the dangers and risks of underage drinking, this is a good time to be sure you find time to set aside and discuss this subject.  Peer pressure can be extremely powerful force - especially in middle school and high school.

1)  At what age would you suggest parents start talking to kids about alcohol? Should parents bring it up independently, or wait for their children to ask before broaching the topic?

Like with any sensitive and serious subject, as soon as a parent believes their child is mature enough to understand the topic (alcohol) is when they should start discussions.  It can start by asking them their thoughts on alcohol, listen to them carefully and remember, never criticize.  Start the discussion at their level and start learning from each other.

Education is the key to prevention and can help your child to better understand the risk and dangers of alcohol from an early age.

Waiting for a crisis to happen, such as living with an alcoholic or having an issue with a family member that has a drinking problem is not the time to start talking to the child.  With this type of situation, the subject should be approached as early as the child can possibly understand alcohol and substance use.

2)  If you’ve had bad experiences with alcohol in the past (ie you or a friend/family member has battled alcoholism or similar issues), should you be open about them with your kid? If so, when is the right age for kids to hear this information? How open should you be?

This is a very tricky question.  On one hand we value honesty, however when a teenager likes to throw it back at you when they decide to experiment and it goes too far is when you realize you may want to pick and choose what stories from your past you want to share.
If you have a family member that has battled with addiction, alcoholism or similar issues, there is nothing like firsthand experiences (especially those people that are related to them) to help them understand how harmful this disease can be and in some cases, deadly.    I think it is very important that your teenager know these stories and how it relates to them – especially as they go into middle school and high school and start feeling the peer pressure from to others to experiment with different substances.

3)  Are there any websites or books that you’d recommend having parents read or showing kids (at any age)? Are certain types of information better for each age group (ie maybe children respond better to broad themes and videos, tweens respond well to anecdotes and stories, and teens respond better to hard facts about drinking and health)?

Ask Listen Learn: Is a fantastic interactive and educational website created by The Century Council For Underage Drinking.  This site if full of facts, resources, videos downloads, games as well as more links that offer extended information.  This site is targeted for all ages from younger kids to teens.
The Cool Spot: This is another great website for tweens and teens.  This deals with information on alcohol and helping teens and young teens resist peer pressure.
Smashed:  Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas – This is an excellent book for both parents and teens of a true story.  It was a NYT’s best seller.  Eye-opening and utterly gripping, Koren Zailckas’s story is that of thousands of girls like her who are not alcoholics—yet—but who routinely use booze as a shortcut to courage and a stand-in for good judgment.  This book is more for teenagers and parents.

4)  Do you think that schools and/or the media do a good job of warning kids about the dangers of alcohol consumption, or do they receive mixed messages about drinking? How might you incorporate your thoughts about this into a conversation with your child?

Schools and teachers do what they are paid to do, and in most cases, especially with dedicated teachers and employees, will go above their duty and do more.  However it is the parent’s responsibility to continue to talk to their child about the risks and dangers of alcohol, as well as the peer pressure they may face in school and in their community.

Though many parents are busy today, some working two jobs, many are single parents – there are few excuses not to take the time to talk to your kids about these subjects.  Whether it is Internet safety, substance abuse, safe sex, or simply homework – parenting is your priority.  I am not saying this is easy, I know for a fact, it isn’t.  I was a single parent with two teenagers, it was very hard.  I think today is even more challenging since there is more obstacles to contend with than there was even a decade ago.
The good news is the most recent study by The Century Council says that 83% of youth cite parents as the leading influence in their decisions not to drink alcohol.  Another words – our kids are listening and parents are doing their job parenting!

5)  How often should you talk to kids about alcohol, and does it vary by age? (i.e. less frequently for younger children, more frequently for tweens, and most frequently for teenagers?)
As frequently as you have an opportunity.  If there is a reason for it – if there is a conversation about it, expand on it – don’t run from it.  This is for both tweens and teens.  As far as little children are concerned, again it depends on their maturity and what your family dynamics consist of.

 6)  If you drink yourself, is it ever a good idea to allow kids to drink with you (i.e. a glass of wine at dinner) to de-stigmatize alcohol and help them be responsible? Or is it instead better to forbid them from consuming alcohol altogether until they are 21? 

Alcohol is illegal for underage drinkers.  However there are some that believe that a sip of alcohol isn’t be a big deal.  I believe this is a personal decision, but if you have alcoholism that runs in your family, it is something that I would caution you on.
The other side to this is some people believe it would eliminate them from trying it at a friend’s house where they could get into trouble such as drinking and driving.  I think this goes back to being a personal choice on for your family.  It goes back to talking to your teen – communication.  Keep the lines open!

7)  If you suspect your child’s friends are drinking or pressuring him/her to drink, should you stop allowing your child to hang out with them?

Communication.  Talk to your child about these friends.  Find out what is going on and help your child see that maybe the choices he/she is making are not in their best interest.  It is better if your teen comes to the conclusion not to hang out with these friends rather than their parent telling them not to.

8)  Should the discussion be different for a daughter versus a son? How might you talk to the different sexes differently about alcohol (i.e. maybe you’d warn girls more about not having people slip something in their drinks at parties, while you’d warn boys more about alcohol and hazing/pranks.)

I don’t want parents to get confused on gender and alcoholism.  It doesn’t discriminate.  A girl or a boy can be slipped a drug in their drink at a party – just like a girl or boy can be coerced into participating into a mean prank of hazing.  

 With this, whether you have a son or daughter, you need to speak with them about the risks of leaving any drink alone and coming back for it.  Keep in mind, you don’t have to have an alcoholic beverage to put a powdery substance into it (another words even a soda can be spiked).

The important issue is they understand that these things can happen and they can happen to them.

9)  What should you do if you suspect your teenager is drinking against your advice?

Communication.  I know it is easier said than done (and I sound like a broken record), however it is the best tool we have and the most effective.  As hard as it can be, talking with a teenager is difficult, but we have to continue to break down those walls until they talk to us and tell us why they are turning to alcohol.
If you aren’t able to get through, please don’t be ashamed or embarrassed if you can’t, you are not alone. 

Again, teen years are the most trying times.  Reach out to an adolescent therapist or counselor.  Hopefully your teen will agree to go. If not, may you have a family member or good friend your teen will confide in.  It so important to get your teen to talk about why he/she is drinking.  Don’t give up – whether it is a guidance counselor, sports coach, someone he/she is willing to open up to.

Parents can’t allow this to escalate and only believe it is a phase.  Maybe it is – but maybe it isn’t.  Be proactive.  Don’t wait for it to reach the addiction level. Don’t be a parent in denial.  There is help and you don’t have to be ashamed to ask for it.

There are many typical teens that end up being addicts – don’t let your teenager be one of them.

 10)  Could you offer one specific tip for each age group (elementary school, tween/middle school, and high school) that I may have missed or that people might not think of?

For all ages, parents need to realize how important it is to be a role model.  As I mentioned earlier, 83% of children are listening and are influenced by their parents.  That is a large number.  So continue keeping those lines of communication open – starting early and going into their college years!

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