Talking with Our Teens about Drinking
Talking to a teen-aged son or daughter about drinking is not an experience that many parents look forward to. We oftentimes get to look like the ones who are stiff and uncool. Also, many adults are convinced that such discussions are not effective, that there’s nothing we can do to come between teens and alcohol if their minds are set upon it. But more so even than school programs, public service messages, and the threat of the law, parents can wield the strongest influence over their kids in this matter. We just need to be honest about our concerns, firm about our expectations, and able to communicate in a way that inspires conversation and sharing rather than reactions.
Generally speaking, expressions of concern work better than threats, and presenting facts works better than giving ultimatums
Generally speaking, expressions of concern work better than threats, and presenting facts works better than giving ultimatums. For example, you could simply say this to your teen: “Don’t ever get into a car with someone who’s been drinking!” But that will probably make less of a lasting impression than if you posed a question like this: “How might you feel if you were involved in an alcohol-related accident, broke one of your legs, and had to miss out on soccer this year? Would you think that it’d been worth it?”
Plain facts usually carry more weight than emotional displays do. And the facts paint an unappealing picture of a reality that our teens may well decide that they want to avoid. Alcohol contributes to poor school performance, sleep difficulties, and health problems, and it adversely affects a young person’s performance in both sports and work. Then, consider all the embarrassing and even dangerously irresponsible things that young people may do whilst under the influence. In addition, alcohol-related traffic accidents are among the leading causes of death for teens.
Our kids are more likely to listen to our arguments if they don’t feel like they’re on the witness stand. Confrontations will probably just put them on the defensive. It can be more effective to lead the conversation with questions. What does your teen already know about drinking, and what is his or her general opinion of it? Such an opening is more likely to prompt conversation rather than argument. At the same time, we need to stand our ground during such a discussion if we want to make some positive impact. Anything short of stating that alcohol is simply not an option for our teens could be considered implied consent. Also, this is not a talk to have “once and for all”. Keep checking in with your teen, and keep the dialogue open.
Of course, everything we say will only hold weight if we practice what we preach. There are reasons why drinking is prohibited until a person is twenty-one, but if we expect to uphold those reasons then we need to be drinking responsibly ourselves. If we are, then we can point out that young people are not experienced enough yet to know how to drink without binging, or make safe choices while under the influence, and our teens will be more likely to listen because we’re modeling the very moderation that we’re talking about.