They have loved us, nurtured us, and taught us, even when it was far from easy. Parents: I learned a lot from mine. Everything from tackling tough topics to embracing mistakes, and rely on their example often when parenting my own daughter.
My mom and dad didn’t shy away from the difficult conversations. I always knew right where they stood. There wasn’t a lot of gray area. They both clearly shared the belief that my brother and I were entirely capable of both knowing and doing what was right.
When my brother and I left the house as tweens and teens, my mom would say two things to us: “I love you” and “Make good choices.”
“Make good choices” is a mantra that I have used with my daughter and repeat often. I love that it is short, sweet and covers pretty much any and all possible scenarios she may face at any time.
Making good choices included following the law. When my parents talked to me about drinking when I was a kid, they made it clear that it was not an action they would perm it. I was not of legal age to consume alcohol; in fact, I was pretty far from it. In their home, illegal behavior was inexcusable.
My parents delivered a very clear message about alcohol: the only good choice was to not drink until I was 21. Kids say that parents are the leading influence when it comes to deciding not to drink, and parents best use that influence when they let their kids know how they feel about underage alcohol consumption, in unequivocal language. Mine did exactly that.
They also explained to me the reasons not to drink that extended beyond the legal implications. My mom talked about the impact that alcohol has on the body’s organs and systems, that it is possible to die from alcohol poisoning, that it lowers inhibitions and can lead to risky situations.
She was also very upfront about the fact that we share genes with relatives who have struggled with alcoholism. While I may not have fully appreciated the significance of that information as a tween and teen, it remained in the back of my head and informed my decisions about my relationship with alcohol then and still does today.
Another gift my parents gave me during our discussions about underage drinking was the ability to blame them. They reviewed with me how to handle situations and said that I was welcome to make them the reason I said no to alcohol.
Paul Coleman, a psychologist, family therapist, and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. Says the best way to help kids say no is to practice short, direct replies, not ones that are long or involved or wavering. Instead, he suggests that kids say things like, “No way! That’s crazy. My parents will ground me for a month.”
My parents explained that it was possible that my decisions would also impact my dad, who was a school administrator in the town in which we lived. His job was helping kids learn and shaping young minds. The community wouldn’t have a lot of faith in his ability to do so, however, if he couldn’t keep his daughter out of the sauce. They had a point, especially given that we lived in a small town where everyone knew everything about everybody.
Social media has made everywhere a small town now, and our kids need to know that they do not live in a vacuum. Rather, they live in a world where pictures and information are shared almost instantly and information spreads. Little did I know as an adolescent that the speed and efficiency of the town rumor mill would be put to shame by the internet.
Kids need to know that choosing to drink when they are not of age often means consequences, whether it is from their parents, their current school, potential colleges or future employers.
With the vast amount of information, including photos, shared online, very little is secret. All those people who encounter your kid now and in the future have a way to know if kids are making good choices.
Talk with your kid about making good choices, what you think good choices look like, and why.