The first time I was offered alcohol, I was 12. After eighth grade graduation, I went to a party at a friend’s house. I was so happy to be included. I felt so grown up in my sequined cocktail dress, dancing with sports-coat-and-tie-clad boys. Then, someone got into the parents’ liquor and began mixing drinks.
Talking about alcohol with my 9 year old might seem early but she’s just three years younger than I was on that night. Right now, she doesn’t go anywhere without adult supervision but that time is coming soon. If we wait to talk about healthy choices ten minutes before her ride to the party shows up, it will be too late.
The preteen years have shown up right on schedule, along with lengthy bedtime-delaying conversations about fitting in, the latest trends, and “annoying boys.” Just over the last few months, my daughter has gone from saying she will never, ever drink wine to asking why kids can’t have one sip.
So, we talk. We talk early. We talk often. We show her the ill effects alcohol has on the body, especially very young bodies. We point out the consequences of unhealthy choices with local news stories.
We try to instill confidence in her and guide her towards a healthy self-image and positive peer relationships.
We try to model responsible adult drinking, as well as cautious use of social media. I love this bit of advice about having conversations with other adults in front of your kids–tweens may listen more closely if they think they are “overhearing” an adult conversation.
We’re not done, though. Hopefully we are laying a foundation for those future moments but we still need to bolster the defenses our children will build.
Our kids need to know that we are always here to listen, offer a safe ride, and serve as scapegoat for excuses to friends. In middle school when they want to be dropped off at the mall or movies, in high school when they start driving and getting rides from friends, and even once our children reach the independent living of college, we will have to support them without hovering.
I especially worry how to answer questions about my own rebellious teenage years. Would my children learn from my mistakes or take them as license to repeat them? Honesty and trust are an important part of any relationship–but how full should the disclosure be?
How will I guide my children through challenges never even dreamed of when I was a teen? I made plenty of mistakes when I was a kid but I didn’t have to worry about college admissions officers and future employers seeing my missteps on social media.
Yes, parenting is a lifelong relationship. There’s no to-do list you can complete and then file away. Even as an adult, I have leaned on my parents and drawn comfort and strength from them. I hope that in the years to come, my kids and I will build on the foundations we’re establishing now.