As your budding adolescents get older, the chances that they will be exposed to alcohol increase. It’s almost inevitable that at some point your children will have to make the choice to say YES or NO to alcohol. They may be taken by surprise when put in this situation. They may be trying hard to fit in with a cool crowd and have trouble thinking up good responses from scratch. That’s why they need to have some answers at the ready, and why having conversations about saying NO are so important.
“Kids shouldn’t go into lengthy or weak-sounding explanations,” says Paul Coleman, a psychologist, family therapist, and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. “Answers such as ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea‘ or ‘My parents wouldn’t like it…’ invite a debate, and your child’s resolve may weaken if the other person keeps trying to talk him into a drink.”
The best strategy, says Coleman, is to practice short, direct replies such as:
“No way! That’s crazy. My parents will ground me for a month.”
“If he keeps saying no, he’s not as likely to be pressured as much or as regularly,” says Coleman.
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 points out that saying “no” immediately makes kids different from many of their peers – exactly what most adolescents don’t want. “Drinking or not drinking is one of the things that separates kids once they get into adolescence,” he says. “None of the things they say will completely work, if their aim is that those words won’t set them apart.” If your child does turn away from kids who drink, realize he may need extra emotional support.
What else can you do?
Give your kids the information and support they need to make healthy decisions and avoid alcohol. Right now they are developing self-images and long-term habits, so you want them to feel positive about themselves and make healthy choices.
- Let them know they can talk to you about anything. When they do, try to Ask, Listen, Learn.
- Give them love and praise. Keep an open mind and an open line of communication and trust.
- Encourage them to be healthy and active by participating in sports, school clubs, and other extra-curricular activities.