Today our kids are completely surrounded, it seems, by alcohol. If it isn’t a TV advertisement, it’s on a billboard while you’re driving to school, or its lite up in the window of the gas station marketing all the brands of alcohol and liquor they sell, not to mention the number of TV shows either depicting alcohol use and its effects or referencing it. Early adolescents is already a time of intense and often confusing changes for your kiddo, and alcohol advertisements are adding an additional layer to the hot mess, that is the pre-teen and teen years.
Research has shown that youngsters are starting earlier and earlier when it comes to drinking and tobacco use; with 20% of 6th graders in 2018 reporting having more than a sip of alcohol before age 12. While that is a sobering statistic, it is important to know that there are things you can do to help your child make healthier decisions.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism sites the best way to influence your child to avoid drinking is by having a strong, trusting relationship with them; as teens are much more likely to delay drinking when they feel they have a close supportive tie with a parent or guardian. Then, if your teen does eventually begin to drink, a good relationship with you will help protect him or her from developing alcohol-related problems. However, the opposite is also true. When the relationship between parent and teen is strained or full of conflict and distance, the teen is more likely to use alcohol and to develop drinking-related problems.
Establishing a strong connection with your teen or pre-teen can sometimes feel like climbing Everest with their changing moods and interest. This can be made easier by:
1. Establishing open communication. Don’t leave any topic off the table when they have questions. This will help them see you are being honest and therefore, open lines of communication for not only alcohol related issues but others as well.
2. Show you care. I think sometimes we take for granted that our kids know we care for them. But just like it is nice to hear from a spouse that they care for you, it is important to show that same care towards your child. You can do this by making a point to regularly spend one-on-one time with your child where they have your undivided attention. It could be as simple as going on a walk, making cookies, or a quiet dinner out.
3. Draw the line. Set clear, realistic expectation for your child’s behavior and be consistent with consequences. During pre-teen and teen years, kids often try to test their limits by breaking rules. By establishing these expectations and consequences with your adolescent and regularly enforcing them, they will be less likely to break those expectations because they know the consequence will be enforced.
4. Set a good example. This doesn’t meant that you can never have an occasional beer, this just means that when you do drink, do it responsibly and not every day. This is a good time to also set some rules and limits for yourself by not asking your teen to go grab another cold one out of the fridge, not drinking beyond your limit, and not drinking and driving. Showing your teen that when they are old enough to drink that you can do so responsibly can help them establish better habits later in life as well.
5. Keep Track of Your Child’s Activities. Keeping track of your child’s activity should be a fine art. It rides the line between being a helicopter mom and being hands-off. As you guide your child’s behavior, make an effort to respect their growing need for independence and privacy while still knowing their plans and whereabouts. Generally, your child will be more open to your supervision if he or she feels you are keeping tabs because you care, not because you distrust them.