One of the parenting decisions we struggle with the most is what to tell kids about alcohol. October is Substance Abuse Prevention month but when it comes to alcohol we often have a hard time seeing it as a drug. Yet, if we don’t treat it as substance abuse – neither will our children.
Big Alcohol Wants Your Kids
One of the most important reasons we need to tell kids about alcohol and tell them early is because the industry already is. It’s heartbreaking to think about it but from early on our children are already being marketed to by the alcohol industry. They are methodically grooming them to become future drinkers who truly believe that they too will need to drink in order to be desirable, to have fun, and to fit in.
We want children to be aware of alcohol and its dangers but we also need to be realistic. If all of our conversations are only about the dangers, the doom and the gloom, we won’t get through. Abstinence-only education just doesn’t work regardless of whether you’re talking about sex, drugs, or alcohol.
Your kids already know that you drank alcohol and that so many other people do. They want to know why. Why do people drink? How does it make you feel? Why did you stop? What will happen if they try it?
Be honest about your experiences. Create an environment that allows open communication and the safety to ask any question. (That’s good advice for any topic when it comes to raising kids!) Let them know early on that no matter what choice they make they can always come talk to you about without shame, guilt, or judgment.
What To Tell Kids About Alcohol
Choosing transparency also extends to when you tell kids about alcohol. Tell them everything – the perceived good and the bad. Explain it IS a drug just like heroin or cocaine. Explain it is addictive and that it leads to poor choices.
Offer examples of how alcohol can harm not only them but also those around them or even innocent strangers.
This is a great time to start discussing the difference between safe and legal and how even if something is legal it doesn’t mean it is safe. That there are consequences from all the choices we make – too much sugar can lead to cavities, weight gain, or diabetes. Drinking too much water can even be lethal.
The Two Filters
Kids need to learn about creating boundaries and how to make healthy choices early on. This is where I introduce the two filters I want my kids to use in guiding their choices.
- How does it make me feel?
How will I feel physically if I make that choice? My boys learned the hard way that if they eat too much candy and junk they will feel physically ill and might even get sick. They’ve experienced how they feel after staying up too late or playing video games all day. We contrast that with how they feel after a good night’s sleep or exercising.
- How does it make me behave?
Our kids can also relate to how different choices make them behave. When they consume a bunch of sugar they might have a ton of energy and run around like crazy but they also understand the crash that happens afterward. When they stay up too late or play video games too long they will be tired, lazy, and pretty crabby.
These simple filters are an excellent segue into the effects alcohol has on us physically and mentally. We can tell kids about alcohol use, both short term and long term, by using relatable examples from their life now.
What About You?
Did you start reading this with curiosity about what to tell kids about alcohol and now you’re wondering if maybe you need to do something about your own drinking? These 6 tips on taking a break from alcohol are a great place to start!
Not A One-Off
When you tell kids about alcohol, you can’t make it a one-off conversation. Talking about all of the hard subjects – mental health, sex, drugs, alcohol, abuse, bullying, etc. – needs to be an ongoing and everyday part of life and parenting. Yes, some of these conversations can make us uncomfortable but that’s where growth happens both for us as parents and for them as children.