Another end of summer, another start of the school year. What better time than now to start your teen off with some thoughtful advice about underage drinking.
A problem with giving advice as to why underage drinking is not good is that there never does seem to be the right time to do it. So, frequently that discussion never happens. So how about doing it now. Beginning of the school year. Off to a good start. Pry them away from their computer, cell phone, iPod, iPhone, whatever. Don't wait for a good time, because it may never come.
"Jennifer, I want to talk to you about drinking. This will not take a long time."
"Mom, must we? This is so inconvenient."
It's never convenient for them.
"Yes, we're going to talk about drinking."
"I'm really busy now. Besides, you know I don't drink."
One strong reason for talking to your teen about drinking is that you can't know for sure that they are not drinking, or are not going to drink. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the first use of alcohol typically begins around age twelve, and half of 13-15 year olds say they will be faced with making a decision regarding alcohol in the next three months.
What should you talk about? Here's a list of reasons that you might bring up with your child as to why underage drinking a bad idea. You don't need to talk about all of them. Start with one. Or two. The hardest part is beginning the discussion.
First, alcohol has the power to take over even an adult's life. Children are obviously younger and thus have considerably less ability to handle what can become a potentially dangerous and life controlling habit. The earlier in their lives that children drink, the more likely they are to have serious drinking problems later on in their lives.
Second, drinking can lead to drunk driving which can lead to fatal car crashes. Youth are already several times more likely to be involved in a vehicle crash than an adult. The last thing we want to do is add to that risk.
Third, teen drinking can cause teens to make bad choices that they will ultimately regret, often as soon as the next day. This includes irresponsible sexual behavior that can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, not to mention a bad reputation. One bad decision at a party and it may live on the internet forever.
Fourth, drinking underage poses a considerable health risk, especially in their not-fully-developed bodies. The brain, heart, stomach, liver and so many other still-developing vital organs can be affected.
Finally, underage drinking is illegal. Your child can be arrested and you can be arrested for providing alcohol to minors. Not to mention all of the other legal issues that may stem from underage drinking – drivers license suspension, stiff fines, and so many other possible criminal sanctions.
Should you even bother to talk with your child about drinking? Yes, you should. The fact is that just you talking with your child about underage drinking does decrease the likelihood that they will drink. Further, it is not so much the words that you say, or the convincingness of your arguments, that is so important. Any talking about the issue is a good thing. A discussion – in and of itself – brings an added degree of thoughtfulness within your child in regard to what is a serious and potentially harmful activity. Even better than just your talking? A conversation, with useful phrases like, "What do you think?" But what matters most is that you have the talk.
Of course, talking about drinking should not be limited to just one conversation. You may think, "There, I did it. I had the drinking talk with Jennifer. Now she's safe and I don't have to do it again,” but you do. "We won't talk about this again," but you must. The hardest part is beginning that dialogue and letting your child know that they can discuss this issue with you. No time is better to begin this discussion than right now.
Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including Get out of my life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager. He serves on the National Advisory Board of The Century Council, a national not-for-profit organization funded by distillers dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking.