As you can see from the statistics, the number of children experimenting with alcohol is low–and it continues to decline! But in the event that you find out that your child has taken that “first sip,” here are some ways to start the difficult conversation about underage drinking.
If you catch them red-handed:
“There should be consequences,” says Paul Coleman, a psychologist, family therapist, and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. Curfews, grounding, or limits on phone use are some possibilities. Emphasize that drinking is illegal at their age. Remind them that if the police were to have discovered them instead of a parent, that they could face much more severe penalties, such as being thrown out of school, having a permanent criminal record, or being summoned to court.
If they come to you:
On the other hand, if your child comes to you with an admission, the last thing you want to do is squash that impulse. “If he tells you something and then gets in trouble for it, that’s the last time your child will tell you anything,” emphasizes Anthony Wolf, a clinical psychologist and author of Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall and I’d Listen to My Parents if They’d Just Shut Up: What to Say and Not Say When Parenting Teens. Instead:
- Praise honesty, but don’t let the problem go by without weighing in.
- Repeat firmly that you disapprove of this behavior, that it’s highly dangerous, and that you expect it never to happen again.
Know What To Say
Tweens are undergoing many emotional and physical changes, and they’re fascinated by how their bodies and minds operate. So give your child plenty of information about how alcohol affects them physiologically. You don’t have to deliver a science report, but tell her about alcohol’s negative impact on a young person.
- Physically, alcohol affects many of the body’s organs and systems. It can irritate the stomach lining, make people lose their balance, throw up, and become unable to focus or speak clearly.
- Emotionally, it can make young people stressed, angry, and violent.
- Mentally, it can interfere with normal brain development.
- It affects learning and memory, slows reactions, and often makes kids lose interest in getting good grades and staying in school.
- In some situations alcohol reduces inhibitions, leading to a wide range of risky situations.
- Drinking too much over a long period of time can damage major organs, including the liver, pancreas, kidneys, and bone marrow.
- In other cases, usually in larger amounts, it can act as a depressant, potentially leading to sleep, comas, and even death.
Still looking for more information? Check out our videos that explore the developing brain and the way it is affected by alcohol.