How to Talk to Kids About Underage Drinking

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Talking to your kids about alcohol at an early age is key in helping them to make responsible choices.  Here are tips and conversation starters for how to talk to kids about underage drinking.

As a cop, my husband will tell you how important it is to talk to kids about underage drinking.  He has experienced, first hand, how underage drinking can forever change a family.

How to talk to kids about underage drinking He will tell you that he can still hear the clicking that the turn signal was making when he arrived on scene at his first underage drinking crash.

He will tell you how he watched a teenager, who was driving under the influence, take his last breath when he crashed his car.  He can still see his face and remember his name.

He will tell you that you can’t imagine what it’s like to knock on someone’s door, knowing you are about to devastate a family.

My husband has had his share of experiences in dealing with underage drinking.  This is why it’s so important to talk to your kids early and often about underage drinking and give them the guidance they need to make responsible choices.

When you think of the average 8 year old what comes to mind?  I remember my son (now 11 years old) was obsessed with his favorite super heroes and would spend hours playing with his toy tractors.  He was a Wolf in Cub Scouts and played coach-pitch baseball.

How to Talk About Underage Drinking

I loved that age, though truth be told, I say that about every age!  But 8 years old was so much fun.  He was just starting to discover his independence.  What I didn’t know, however, is that one out of three children have tried alcohol before age 8.

One out of three.  To me, that fact is mind blowing.

Given that staggering statistic, conversations about alcohol should start early – probably much earlier than you were thinking – and should occur often.  Kids age 8 to 11 are very receptive to their parents’ input so this is the ideal time to begin the dialogue.

I know it can be awkward to talk to your kids about big subjects like drinking.  Trust me.  I’ve been there.  But, children whose parents talk to them about drinking are much more likely to make good choices and stay safe than those whose parents avoid the conversation.

It doesn’t matter if your child is 8, 11 or already a teenager.  The key is to start the conversation and keep it going.   Rather than having one big, intimidating “talk” with your child(ren), use everyday opportunities and circumstances to discuss the risks and consequences of underage drinking.

So, how do you do it?  How do you start that kind of conversation with your child?  Here are some tips to help you get started:

Tips for How to Talk to Kids about Underage Drinking

  1.  Make a plan.  Take some time to think about what you want to say and how you will respond to your child’s questions.
  2. Have a conversation.  No one likes to sit through a lecture.  Kids are much more open to a casual conversation.
  3. Ask open-ended questions.  Encourage your child to share how they feel about the issue rather than asking “yes” or “no” type questions.
  4. Be honest.  Kids know when you’re trying to hide something.  It’s OK to not have all of the answers.  Use their questions as an opportunity to find out together.
  5. Encourage openness.  Let your child know that it’s OK to talk to you if they encounter drinking.  Remember, even if alcohol is secure in your home, it may not be the case at the homes of your kids’ friends.
  6. State the facts.  Remind them that underage drinking is illegal and can open the door to other risky behaviors.  It can carry serious risks such as nerve and brain damage and increased risk for alcoholism and other abuse disorders.
  7. Be clear about your expectations.   Make sure you child knows that you have a zero-tolerance policy in your family.  Use the opportunity to guide them on making responsible choices.
  8. Make it a positive experience.  Listen without interruption to what your child has to say and allow them to contribute to the conversation.

When to Talk to Kids About Underage Drinking

Finding the right time to talk with your child about underage drinking doesn’t have to be difficult.  Everyday life presents us with many natural opportunities to start open, honest conversations.

We’ve had several important talks with our son while driving – for some reason he always gets inquisitive in the car.  I’ve found that this scenario makes it easier and less awkward for us to talk about important topics such as underage drinking.

How to talk to kids about alcohol

Here are some other examples:

  • Watching television shows and commercials, movies, or music videos
  • Incident in the local community or in the media
  • Holidays/celebrations/sporting events
  • Alcoholism in the family
  • Listening to the music or radio in the car
  • Gaming together
  • Doing a one-on-one activity, from sports to homework

Underage Drinking Conversation Starters

Conversation Starters for Talking about Underage Drinking

If you’re not sure how to start a dialogue about underage drinking with your child, here are some conversation starters:

  • “Have you talked about underage drinking in school?”
  • “I read that 1 in 10 kids your age are drinking. I know it might not be you, but it may be happening with people you know. Do you want to talk about it?”
  • “Why do you think kids drink alcohol?”
  • “I heard about [reference a news item or current event].  What do you think about that?”
  • “What are two things you would like to accomplish by the time you graduate high school?  How could alcohol use keep you from reaching your goals?”

The most important thing to remember when it comes to addressing underage drinking with your children is to stay connected with them at every age.  You can learn a lot by paying attention to your child’s interactions.  Learn more about talking with your kids about underage drinking here.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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