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7 tips to help you address teen drinking

Tips for talking with your kids about alcohol from Mothers Against Drunk Driving RI.

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By Eric Creamer

Although it is a fact that most children value what their parents teach them above all else, peer pressure is very real. Every one of us have felt it at different points in our lives, and our children are no different.

This applies to many things, including the dangers and temptations surrounding underage drinking. As parents, sometimes we feel helpless, or that what we are saying is not helping. But they ARE listening. Here are seven tips for talking to your child about peer pressure and drinking:

The “best defense is a good offence”
Staying away from situations where alcohol and the pressure to drink are present is ultimately the best plan to staying safe and protecting a child’s future. Many kids think drinking alcohol is a way of looking more grown up, but tell them that other activities, like shopping, going to the movies, or hosting a dinner with friends is just as grown up.

Tell your child to trust in a friend
Sometimes it is easier to stick to a plan to not drink when in difficult situations if you have the support of someone who can pull you aside when someone is pushing hard for you to drink. That is why getting to know your children’s friends is so important because you will need to have trust in them as well.

Talk about feelings and emotions and how they affect peer pressure
Acknowledge the inherent difficulty of some social situations so that your kids know you, as their parent, understand what they are going through. Remind them that alcohol use clouds judgement, and that you don’t want to see them get hurt. There are so many scenarios that are just not worth taking the risk for.

Focus on their safety
Make a plan for how your child wants to react to such situations, and what you can do to help. If possible, limit contact with friends who pressure your child to drink. The classic idea that “if they are pressuring you to do something that can hurt you, they are not your friends” still holds true. Help your child understand that a friend cares about you and does not want to you to get hurt. You, as their parent, are not your child’s “friend;” you can, however, give them all of the support and tools they need to make proper decisions.

Talk about why your child might want to drink
Why a child may want to do something like drink alcohol, use drugs, smoke cigarettes, or other illegal or reckless behavior is a starting point in talking about how to redirect those desires. Some kids do it because they think it will make them feel better about themselves or improve their mood. Reassure your child or teen that it is normal to feel sad and stressed sometimes. If they express extensive, long-term sadness and stress, seek professional help. Exercise and other activities are also ways they can accomplish feeling better. They might want to fit in because many of their friends are “doing it.” Encourage your child to focus on their own values and what they want to accomplish for their futures and whether risky behaviors, such as illegal alcohol use, will help accomplish that or derail it.

Give your children the confidence to say no and leave when necessary
The reality is that many kids will be in a situation where alcohol will be present with little or no supervision from adults. One of the best confidence builders is honesty. Once your child can say statements like “no thanks, I don’t drink.” Or “I don’t want to get in trouble” they will be able to withstand future pressures much more effectively. Or talk to them about leaving any situation that is not safe. If the party is stopped by law enforcement, a child could be penalized for being there whether they’ve been drinking or not.

Tell them the majority of teens do not drink alcohol
Remember to tell your children that they are not the only ones at the party who are not drinking. Research shows that two out of three teens do not drink alcohol. Chances are they are just choosing not to draw attention to the fact that they are not drinking at parties.

Eric Creamer is the State Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Rhode Island.