How do you talk to a five-year-old about alcohol? Is there a way to teach a seven-year-old to say ‘no?’ Are they too young to know what alcohol is?
Many parents struggle with these questions as their child gets older.
A few parents may wait until their teachers talk with them about it at school. Some parents feel that you should wait until they encounter alcohol to talk about it. Others may choose not to talk with them until they go off to college.
Talking with your child about alcohol can be uncomfortable at any age. It’s important for parents to know that it’s necessary and in, many cases, needed early on.
When it comes to alcohol, many resources also say that there isn’t an age that’s too early to begin the conversation anymore.
A lot of parents today may have been able to go until high school without being offered alcohol. But today’s teens don’t have the same advantage. According to Do Something.org, the average American boy will begin drinking at the age of 11 and girls will begin at age 13.
On top of that, teens are exposed to a much higher volume of media than previous generations faced. They are constantly bombarded with songs, posts and ads. Many of these media outlets glorify drinking.
This means your kids also run the risk of having their perceptions of alcohol distorted like never before.
If all they are ever told about alcohol comes from media, their assumptions will most likely be that alcohol is okay, no matter what your age.
Most children accept what they see in media as reality. This can go on until they reach adolescence. And even after they learn that not everything they see on Netflix or in social media is real, their expectations of what life is like can still be greatly affected.
If a child grows up seeing advertisements for alcohol where everyone is having a great time at a party, they may believe that alcohol can only add to the fun. This can lead to dangerous behavior as they grow up.
In a similar way, if they see alcohol in media regularly, they may believe that drinking is a required to be socially accepted.
Without adults to talk with them about alcohol and underage drinking, many things can result. A child may grow up into a teenager who binge drinks, drinks to cope with stress, drinks and drives or drinks because they think that everyone is doing it.
As a parent, you can step in and set your child up for success, at any age, to be safe and sober.
The Early Years
You can start setting up your child for success to say ‘no’ to alcohol from a very young age.
As soon as they begin to show interest in dressing themselves, you can let them make choices. Give them a set of clothes to choose from and let them wear what they choose. Even if they’re wearing a flip flop on one foot and a sneaker on the other, you’ve built up their self-confidence.
By doing this regularly at restaurants with menus, when out shopping or when assigning chores, you can help your child learn how to make choices. According to Aha Parenting, these age-appropriate choices can make all the difference as a child grows up.
The ability to make choices can give a child confidence to make decisions in the future.
According to Kid’s Health, children are most influenced by their parent’s behavior. As your child watches you and the other adults in their life, they will begin to mimic behavior.
Whether good or bad, as children watch the people around them they will begin to behave like them. This stage throws me back to the time of candy cigarettes and cigars.
Many children who saw the adults around them choosing to smoke in the ‘80s and ‘90s were also the ones pretending to smoke with rolled up paper or candy cigarettes.
It’s vital at this age that you lead by example for your child. While you don’t have to swear off alcohol, make sure that you have it in smaller amounts. This can help you stay self-aware while drinking in front of your children.
It can also be a good idea to begin age-appropriate conversations about alcohol with your child. Always keep topics simple, but make sure they know that drinking isn’t allowed until they become a grown-up.
As for the actual age that you should start having formal conversations with your teen about alcohol, the St. Louis Children’s Hospital suggests that parents begin when their child turns nine.
At this age, it is still early enough to prepare your child. Most have reached an emotional maturity that helps them understand that underage drinking can harm them. Additionally, it’s two years from the national average for when many boys will try alcohol for the first time.
Middle School and Beyond
When your child gets older you can continue the conversation.
As a parent, your voice will be one of the most important ones that your child hears. Make sure that you have plenty of conversations about underage drinking and the dangers that are involved with it.
Keep open communication and make sure to practice saying ‘no’ with them. By running through different scenarios, you can help your child to feel more prepared for uncomfortable situations.
Also, know that underage drinking isn’t the norm for teenagers. In fact, most teens don’t drink.
Yet, it’s important to recognize that any teen can make the choice.
For this reason, as parents, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. Setting your child up for success in dealing with the temptation to drink underage isn’t something you have to wait for high school to do.
Coach them to make their own choices from the beginning. Set boundaries and make sure that it’s clear that drinking alcohol is only okay after they’re 21.
You can begin to help your child stay safe and sober in the future at any time. It can even start today.