The most popular drug among teenagers is alcohol, and if you were young once, you probably know why. If you’re like millions of others, you drank as a youth before it was legal to do so. So talking to your kids about it may make you nervous. You did it, so why can’t they – or at least that’s the reasoning a lot of teens fall back on. But you still probably don’t want them drinking and you certainly don’t want them drinking and driving. Here are 10 tips for helping your kids steer clear of the pitfalls of underage drinking:
1. Build Rapport
An adult attempting to build rapport with a teenage son or daughter can appear strained or even futile, but it need not be if it is real and honest communication. If you drank as a youth, be honest about it. Tell your kids that you don’t want them to make the same mistakes you did. Whatever your approach, establish two-way communication, and try not to make it a boring lecture. Relate the discussion to their real-life situation. Find out what they’re running into and go over solutions. And realize that one conversation isn’t enough. The discourse should be on-going as new situations present themselves.
Most kids who got into drinking and drugs simply didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. That is where drug and alcohol education is indispensable. A number of programs and websites have tackled the subject quite well. They provide an insightful look into the truth about drugs and alcohol without being boring or overly preachy. They include:
The best approach is to give kids the facts. When they are educated, they are far more likely to make rational choices. The PERCEPTION OF RISK is a key element to discuss, since kids assume alcohol and even prescription drugs are “safe” since they’re “legal” when nothing could be further from the truth.
3. Set Priorities
Your primary concern is the safety of your child. It is up to you and your child to work out boundaries and protocol. If your #1 concern is about drunk driving, tell them. Let him or her know that you CAN and WILL pick them up any time night or day, no questions asked. Talk about binge drinking and date rape, the prevalence of sexual assault amongst high school and college age kids. If you don’t know about all that, take it upon yourself to find out, because as a parent you need to know. Lay the ground rules and go over various scenarios with your kids. Make sure you get their understanding and honest agreement.
4. Discus Teenage Drinking Habits
Alcohol affects the teenage brain and body differently than adults. When kids drink, it is usually in the form of binge drinking. Most kids don’t like the taste, but they knock down a number of drinks in a short period of time and get intoxicated VERY fast. They lose control and the next morning they often don’t remember everything that happened the night before. They make bad decisions, get into fights and have accidents; they have unprotected sex and risk STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Teens and college kids have all kinds of drinking rituals, many of which are unhealthy and some are quite dangerous. You should talk about these facts with your son or daughter, not to scare them, but to help them understand the pitfalls of underage drinking.
5. Address the Prevalence of Mixing Drugs & Alcohol
Mixing drugs and alcohol is one of the most dangerous things that kids do. A punch bowl party or pharm party is one where kids collect up massive amounts of pills, put them in a bowl and everyone reaches in and swallows a handful, or they get handed out like candy. Then they wash it all down with alcohol and the results can be catastrophic. They don’t even know what they’re taking yet the pills include heavy narcotic and psychotropic drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Ritalin, Adderall, Xanax, Valium, and so on. Any mixing of drugs and alcohol can be dangerous or fatal.
6. Talk About Peer Pressure
If your teen is going to parties, you can be pretty much certain there is alcohol there. They get a lot of pressure to drink and use drugs. Talk with your kids about whether it’s worth it or not to go to these parties. This is a very real problem for teens because popularity is a big issue – at least to them. Peer pressure, ridicule and bullying are serious obstacles for kids. They also have to contend with online peer pressure and bullying, something their parents never had to deal with. Understanding what kids are up against in the 21st century is vital to the conversation.
Another angle is to go over things that are “cool” that do not require drugs or alcohol. Being on the football team or cheerleading squad, taking up the guitar or drums, and other pursuits could successfully supplant the superficial “cool” mentality with something genuinely cool. But even the so-called “uncool” pursuits like science and math are in fact cool. Hopefully your kid’s school supports diverse interests.
7. Discuss Media Influence
Unlike cigarettes, alcohol is advertised on television. So are prescription drugs oddly enough. On television, YouTube, in movies, in print ads and on billboards, we see slick, stylish, well-dressed, affluent, endlessly cool and beautiful people drinking and having the time of their lives. You’d think they just found the key to happiness in a bottle. For some reason, virtually every Seth Rogen/James Franco/Jonah Hill movie has the obligatory slow-motion drunken debauchery scene – to cite one bewildering and ridiculous example.
Media, advertising and propaganda are precise “sciences” and one of the key tools in the arsenal is REPETITON. The “public” gets hit with specific imagery over and over and over again, so much so that we don’t even notice it. Children and teens are especially impressionable and alcohol advertising is intended to make young consumers into loyal customers. Practice media awareness with your kids in order to get them cognizant of the messages and images they are viewing.
8. Establish Goals
Kids drink and use drugs because they’re bored and can’t think of anything better to do. Help your child or teen establish some direction in life. They could get a head start on their peers by taking up a worthwhile goal and working industriously towards it. Many of your great artists, innovators and entrepreneurs started in their youth. They knew what they wanted and went for it, and they couldn’t be bothered with the partying and boozing mentality. There is nothing wrong with having a good time, but when young people have a strong sense of purpose, they also learn and practice things like hard work and self-discipline. They learn that real accomplishment doesn’t come for free.
9. Establish Positive Role Models
Kids emulate their role models. Unfortunately, there are some less-than-stellar role models out there. Talk about role models with your kids. Who are they? Why did they pick them? Perhaps they could elect some positive ones. Maybe they never even thought about it. But the best role model you could aspire to is the best version of YOU. You can’t really force that on anyone – they must realize it for themselves. They can look at others and decide they’d like to adopt some of their positive qualities, but in the end you want them becoming more and more who they truly are. “Be yourself!” has become a bit of a slogan, but the idea is a good one. Be YOU, not someone else.
10. Build Family Support
I certainly can’t tell you how to run your family, but I can say that the family is the primary building block of a civilization. Your family should be the rock for your kids. Certainly the parents should act as positive role models, so if you have a drug problem or a drinking problem, get help. Many kids who get into trouble with drugs and alcohol do so out of frustrations that started in the home. The more stable, supportive and nurturing the family environment, the better. That takes work, as does anything worthwhile.
Our youth face daunting challenges these days, as well as unique opportunities. The support they need starts in the home.