We know you just don’t want to go there, but we are taking you there now.
Erin: No, it’s not the DMV. It’s worse. We are traveling to the land of parental responsibilities: talking about alcohol with your kids.
Ellen: The cattle call at the DMV sounds like a pleasure now, doesn’t it? We know the mere THOUGHT of the discussion can make you break out in the type of hives you haven’t experienced since you ditched Red Dye #40.
Erin: Lucky for you, we’re here to help by suggesting the best paper bag to control your hyperventilation.
Erin: But it’s too soon, you say. He still plays with Legos, you say. She still pulls out her Barbies every chance she gets. We can’t possibly be talking about this stuff already.
Ellen: Unclench your teeth and your butt cheeks because this is actually the perfect time to get this particular conversation ball rolling. Talking early long before your child is tempted to drink or even go anywhere near a party is ideal because underage drinking increases with age.
Erin: But that is not all, talking early also lets you discover how to approach your child long before the stakes are high. It also establishes you’re open to talk about stuff. All stuff. Not just their favorite video games, but their hopes, their fears, and scary stuff too. You set the precedent that you are reliable and available.
Ellen: And the Miss Congeniality of the Availability Pageant is “The Good Listener”. As hard as it may be, a good listener keeps her mouth shut until the other person finishes sharing.
Erin: But as a parent, you need to up your game even more. You really need to evaluate how your child wants to be approached.
Ellen: Since we are knee deep with teens and tweens, we decided to poll our own kids on how they like to be approached. Hear their answers in their own words. It’s really as easy as asking.
Erin: We were surprised ourselves by their candor, but also by the variety and depth of their responses.
Ellen: We actually have a lot of one-on-one conversations in my house, but I don’t think it’s obvious because we leave room for conversations to happen organically. Room that is created by doing things together like swimming and hiking. My tween and teen girls are both pretty open to discussions, but not every kid is like that.
Erin: Absolutely. In my house, I have to honor the different ways my kids communicate. Some of them want one-on-one time but some of my kids feel like that’s a confrontation.
Ellen: But what is true for every kid is that these conversations need time and space to develop. It helps to create these expectations for these spaces early in their childhoods because as kids grow and change, so can their attitudes about talking with you.
Erin: You know how uncomfortable it makes YOU to talk about alcohol? Just add a level of angst, some middle school melodrama and a dash of surly teen grumpiness to the mix and you know what you have?
Ellen: A recipe for conversational catastrophe.
Erin: It’s enough to make you say: So why talk at all? Especially about alcohol? EVER?
Ellen: You talk because of this: Parents hugely influence their kids’ ideas. Your kids will listen to you.
Erin: Really own that. Make these words your daily affirmation through the adolescent years: “I am powerfully influential and they will listen to me.”
Ellen: Now that you are properly affirmed, you can’t make assumptions that they know underage drinking is bad. You have to tell them. Kids underestimate the power of alcohol. This coupled with their sense of invulnerability can be a dangerous situation.
Erin: One last pep talk. You are fierce and motivated by love, so here are some talking points to help you out when you DO have the space for the conversation.
What They Need to Know From You
1. Drinking can be fatal. Even the very first time. Low body weight and developing brains make it an even riskier proposition.
2. Alcohol inhibits your decision-making. Drinking opens you up to experimentation with more dangerous things like drugs and sex. It increases your chances of being a victim or a perpetrator. You lose control.
3. Leads to regretful behavior and embarrassment. That picture of you with your head in the toilet will live on the internet forever.
4. Hurts school and sports performances. Dreams are big at this age. Bright futures are so close and yet so far away. Alcohol can stand in the way of those shiny somedays.
5. Trouble with the law. Underage drinking is illegal. Drinking and driving is not only deadly, it is against the law. And just think about it, going around smashing mailboxes only sounds hilarious when you are smashed yourself. Gets back to decision-making.
6. Not a healthy way to handle stress or uplift mood. Alcohol has never solved a problem but it excels at making things worse. Think gasoline on a fire.
Erin: Feeling a little verklempt? Ready for that paper bag to breathe into?
Ellen: It’s a lot, but remember it doesn’t all have to be covered at once. That’s why you practice creating the space for conversations and you spiral back around on topics as you have the opportunity.
Erin: Granted, these conversations aren’t the easiest, but they are the most important.
This post is sponsored by The Century Council as part of our partnership with them exploring how to #TalkEarly with our kids.
You can follow #TalkEarly on Twitter and The Century Council Website.
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By Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski