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Teachable Moments & Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Drinking

Updated 15 June 2016 Written by Clint Mally
If you’ve been paying attention to media recently, you may have been following the story of Brock Turner, the 20 year Stanford student recently convicted on 3 sexual assault felony accounts while under the influence of alcohol.  His case has received considerable attention due to what many felt was an incredibly lenient sentence for his crime:  6 months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. The case was also special due to a lengthy letter published by the victim of the assault, outlining her experience and why the sentence is such a problem.

There are many discussion topics one can take from this case. There’s a conversation about white privilege, another about rape culture, a third about freedom of speech and the courage of victims to share a story.  For those who are aware and watching for an opportunity, it’s also an opening for an honest conversation about excessive drinking, especially amongst young adult college students.

The conversation is complex. This cannot be a “well, she was drinking, she deserved it” or “that’s what happens at parties”, or a “boys drink and will be boys” conversation.  There is a reasonable argument that what led Brock Turner to assault the young woman is a belief inherent in his value system, and alcohol has nothing to do with that. The change that is called for in light of such an occurrence is a shift in personal and cultural belief that thinks it’s OK to take advantage of others.  And, according to the Department of Justice,  alcohol is involved in 40% of all violent crimes and 37% of convicted offenders were drinking at the time of the arrest.   In the Stanford case, both the young woman and young man were drinking prior to the assault. For a parent concerned for the safety of their teen or young adult loved ones, this case can be a good place to start or continue a conversation about drinking and the challenges it can pose. Having an honest, respectful conversation with your loved one is actually the very best way to influence a healthier and safer decision in their future.

“Really?” you might think. “ If there is anyone my teen doesn’t want to seem to listen to, it’s me!”  But studies have shown over and over again that the opinions of people who care for us make a huge difference in the decisions we make in life.  Especially if there is a relationship built on mutual trust and love, and the conversation is held with respect. Interested in talking with your loved one but not sure how to begin?

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Pick the Right Time, Place, and Tone

As far as timing, the earlier you engage your loved one in conversation about alcohol, the better off you’re going to be. Most 8-year-olds in America know what beer is; they see advertisements almost daily. Beginning the dialogue at a young age sets up a future of easier talks and a foundation of expectations.

If your loved one is older, find a time to talk where the conversation has enough room and neutral territory. If you think it might be a sensitive topic, wait for a time when you feel there is a strong bond, good rapport, and mutual love. Spend time together doing something fun and connective and then open the conversation in a neutral space where you can both be heard and respected.   Remember it’s a conversation; it goes two ways. Ask open-ended questions, and listen to answers. Try not to lecture and if you find yourself having a strong emotional reaction, take a moment to breathe and identify what’s upsetting to you before responding. Remember to have empathy and compassion; it’s not always easy being a young person!

Be Honest

It’s OK to tell your loved one why you want to talk about drinking: because you care about them and their health and safety.  You truly love them and want to provide them with the best advice you can so they can create their best life.

If they ask about your drinking past or current habits, be real. It’s OK to say something like “I had my first drink when I was too young, and I wish I hadn’t.” Or, “You know, this conversation is actually making me think about how much I drink and if I feel comfortable with it.” They may ask challenging questions; listen to them. Your loved one’s inquiry may provide you with the opportunity to asses the example you’re setting.

Share Knowledge and Encourage Empowerment

Drinking can be incredibly detrimental to the teen brain, causing potentially irreparable structural and functional damage in areas of focus, memory, delayed gratification, and more. The teen and young adult body can also suffer and, as was evident in the Stanford case above, the social and legal world of young people can also be greatly impacted by drinking. Research studies about the dangers of underage drinking and share them with your loved one, empowering them to use that information to make informed intelligent decisions.

Don’t shy away from the nuts and bolts of drinking; the more informed a young person is, often the better choices they might make. Explain that beer isn’t “safer” than hard alcohol, that binge drinking can have incredibly drastic consequences, and that generally takes 2-3 hours for one drink to leave the average person’s body. Answer their questions if they have any about drinking.

Be Clear and Firm

Let your loved one know that there is a firm boundary in your belief system and expectations. While pushing the limits may be a natural part of adolescence and young adulthood, young people often actually feel safer knowing where the boundary is. When the edges are clear, it’s easier to move around freely inside them. Let your loved one know that you expect them not to drink.

Teach them how to say “No”. As assertive “No”, with a straight posture, eye contact, and fortitude will help them in times of peer pressure in the face of drinking as well as other dangers and challenging situations.

Encourage Healthy Community

A conversation about drinking is ideally supported by a strong, healthy relationship between yourself and your loved one and your collective community. Know your teen or young adult’s friends and their friend’s parents. Encourage healthy relationships and safe activities; spend time and energy creating alternatives to drinking that your loved one can truly enjoy.

Concerned your teen or young adult may already have a drinking problem? Looking for alcohol rehab programs for teens in Colorado or Maryland? Have questions about alcohol addiction outpatient rehab? Contact the staff at Sandstone Care. We look forward to assisting you and your loved ones.