Posted on July 3, 2017 by Jana Renner
A friend and I were recently trading stories about parenting teenagers. The topic moved to underage drinking parties and how to talk to our teenage children about expectations around underage drinking without sounding preachy or overbearing. Parents of teenagers may be surprised to learn that research shows that parents’ opinions do matter. In fact, 80 percent of youth between the ages of 10 and 18 report that their parents, not their peers, influence their decision to drink or not to drink.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has resources for parents on underage drinking consequences and talking and listening to their children (ages 9-15) about alcohol. They specify five goals for communicating with your child about alcohol:
- Communicate that you disapprove of underage drinking. As mentioned above, young people want to hear from their parents. It’s ok to send a strong and clear message that you don’t approve of underage drinking.
- Communicate that your first concern is your child’s happiness and well-being. Underage drinking has dangerous consequences. Be clear that your first concern is for your child’s safety and happiness.
- Communicate that you are a good source of information about alcohol. Information about alcohol is everywhere- on the internet and social media, in the movies, and in advertisements. Your child should also hear from you. Talking to your child about underage drinking and consequences shows that you are a trusted source of information.
- Communicate that you are paying attention and will notice if your child drinks. Show that you are keeping an eye on your child’s whereabouts and activities.
- Help build your child’s skills for avoiding underage drinking. Peer pressure is powerful, and young people can find themselves in difficult positions before they know it. You can help your child develop strategies so they are prepared in difficult situations.
Conversations about alcohol used should continue beyond high school. Excessive drinking among college students is common and can have devastating consequences. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 25 percent of college students report that alcohol use interferes with their academic performance. College Parents Matter has tools and scripts for parents for talking to their college-aged children about high-risk situations, such as large parties and spring break, that involve alcohol.
Finally, parents who are apprehensive about their children attending large underage drinking parties now have support from the Social Host Ordinance that went into effect in June. This ordinance supports youth, parents, and law enforcement to reduce the riskiest drinking among youth by holding adults accountable when they provide an environment for large underage drinking parties through fines, community service, or taking an education course. The hope is that the implementation and enforcement of this ordinance will deter other adults from making the decision that it is ok for our children to drink alcohol.
For tools and tips in talking to your child about alcohol at any age:
Talk. They Hear You. (Ages 9-15): https://www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking
College Parents Matter: http://marylandcollaborative.org/project/college-parents-matter/
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