I think most parents nod in agreement when hearing the quote “The days are long but the years are short” by Gretchen Rubin. As your children get older, both the days and the years fly by with ever-increasing speed.
I remember one day when my daughter came home from kindergarten with her pink backpack completely stuffed. Among the art projects and permission slips was a sheet about talking with kids about alcohol and drugs.
“Wow, they’re awfully young for that, aren’t they?” I wondered to a fellow mom in the pick-up line the next day.
“Nope!” she answered emphatically. She explained that her work in the juvenile justice system informed her answer. I started that conversation.
I blinked, and my daughter was a tween. I blinked again, and she’s now in high school.
And that conversation continues.
Parents repeatedly hear that talking early is important. Now that my daughter is older, it’s easier to understand exactly why talking with kids when they’re young is so very important. Hindsight is 20/20, after all. Here are 4 big reasons why you should talk with your kids early about alcohol and make it an ongoing conversation that lasts a lifetime.
Your kids look up to you.
When kids are in elementary school, parents are pretty cool. Take full advantage of this, including both indoctrinating them to cheer for your favorite sports team, appreciate your favorite band, and to know where you stand on alcohol.
Research shows that parents are the leading influence when it comes to kids’ decisions not to drink alcohol. As they sing in the musical Hamilton, “Do not throw away your shot.”
Look at talking early as building a strong foundation for the future, and establishing that your kids can talk to you about anything.
Also keep in mind that they’re going to hear about alcohol at some point from someone. You want to be that source of info. Really. (I mean, middle schoolers can be lovely, but facts and understanding aren’t always their strong suits, you know?)
Your kids also know you well. Chances are, if something is important to you, you’re going to talk about it repeatedly. Kids will get the message through ongoing conversations that it’s important to you that they make healthy choices.
Catch kids when they are curious but before they have opportunities to drink.
Getting information after the fact (or big decision) is often not helpful.
Knowledge is power. Giving your kids knowledge about how alcohol impacts their bodies as well as your expectations arms them with the power to make smart decisions.
And you never know when they are going to need to make those decisions, though chances are it is sooner than you think. More than half of eight graders said it was “fairly” or “very” easy to get alcohol in a 2012 Monitoring the Future Study. I’ve written before about my shock when my 14-year-old was served alcohol with me sitting right there. Never in a million years did I think that would happen.
If they know they can come to you with questions when they’re younger, they’re more likely to do so when they’re older, too. You want them to come to you with the little things so that they also come to you with the big things.
You have more time with your kids when they are younger.
With homework, newspaper, dance class, volunteering, football games on Friday nights and several other activities, my daughter’s schedule is jam packed. The school bus picks her up at 6:30 a.m. and she doesn’t stop until her head hits the pillow at 10 p.m.
This year especially my husband and I both noted that we see her less. There simply aren’t as many opportunities to have conversations like there were back when she was a newly-minted teen.
We’ve been talking about alcohol for a long time. By that, I mean that we’ve had brief conversations but many of them over a period of several years. And while we’re certainly not finished, by any means, I have peace of mind knowing that she knows exactly where I stand, what the law says, and the science behind how alcohol impacts the brain and the other systems in her body.
Also, as kids inch closer to college, you realize that there is a lot you need your kid to know before they fly solo. Working on some of that now can help lessen that panic.
Without time pressure, it’s also easier to be on the lookout for conversation starters, like news stories, television shows, or teachable moments, like deciding who is going to be the designated driver when out for a family dinner. I’m grateful for helpful tips like these to know what to say.
It’s never too early to impart your values and emphasize healthy habits
When they are little, we teach our kids to look both ways when crossing the street even if it’s not likely that they’ll be doing so on their own in the immediate future. Parents talk to kids about making healthy food choices before children can prepare a family meal. Teaching them to know that alcohol isn’t safe for kids before they’re heading off to parties on their own is the same – start early and know that they’re ready when the time comes.
While you may think that your elementary kids are a long way off from having to deal with alcohol, I swear that the conversation I had with the fellow kindergarten parent feels like a few weeks ago, maybe a few years, but certainly not a full decade. But last night, parents were sharing stories of cops being called to a party after homecoming where dozens of high school freshmen, my daughter’s classmates, had been drinking.
Time goes faster than you think.