Parents: Trusted Channels for Youth

Hispanic Family
Last month for Alcohol Awareness Month, I wrote about the credibility that parents have when sharing messages with their children about drinking underage and the harm alcohol can do to the developing brain.
This week is National Prevention Week, an annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of, and action around, mental and/or substance use disorders. This year’s theme is “Strong as One, Stronger Together.”

As communicators, we have to shape discussions around difficult topics with a variety of audiences every day. When speaking with our kids about underage drinking, we also should tailor our discussions accordingly. In these cases, your child is your audience. Think about what’s in it for them and what will motivate them to action or non-action.

Try starting this way:

  • Create a safe, age-appropriate space in which to talk with and engage them. You don’t have to make a big deal of it: lectures seldom work for any audience. A conversation about alcohol could be at the dinner table or in the car on a way to a friend’s house.
  • Tell your child you disapprove of underage drinking, and why — because a child’s brain isn’t fully developed, and alcohol can have negative impacts on the brain. Explain that your child’s safety and happiness are very important to you. As a parent and someone who loves them, it is your job to care about them and keep them safe.
  • Share with them that despite what ads, social media and their friends may suggest, underage drinking is NOT the norm. Research shows that only about one out of nine young adults ages 12 to 17 used alcohol during the past month.1
  • Ask open-ended questions, and then listen.
  • Make your child part of the solution. Ask your child about good ways to respond when offered a drink. Your child will be more invested if he or she helps come up with answers. Also try brainstorming additional good responses together. Practice the dialogue with them.

Keep in mind that as children enter junior high and high school, there is greater pressure for them to try alcohol.2

Did your child get invited to a party? Remind them about your expectations and go through the “good answers” dialogue again.

Keep the conversation going. The more you bring up underage drinking, the more your child will feel comfortable asking you questions about it and confiding in you.

Want to join with others in your community who are working on underage drinking prevention, education and awareness? Check out Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking to find a meeting near you and access other resources.

Good luck!

1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863.
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A Guide to Action for Educators. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General.