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How to talk to your children about alcohol use

From remembering when and where soccer practice is to addressing serious issues related to drugs and relationships, parenting is one of the toughest jobs that we face in life. Many teens begin to experiment with alcohol throughout middle and high school. According to the 2017 PA Youth Survey, approximately 14% of sixth through 12th graders reported drinking alcohol within the past 30 days. While many may believe that proximity to a college town would provide youth with even more access to alcohol, data shows that the rate of drinking in rural districts (16%) is even higher than in the State College Area School District (13%).

According to research, young people who drink are more likely to be a danger to themselves, their friends and others. Science shows that an adolescent brain works differently from an adult’s brain. Regardless of how mature some teens may seem, they are more vulnerable to alcohol related consequences because their brains are still in a critical period of development. As a parent, you have the power to equip your child to make smarter, safer choices and to help prevent tragedies. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start small. Sitting down for a “talk” about alcohol can be intimidating for both you and your child. Try using everyday opportunities to talk — such as on a walk, in the car, or over dinner. Having shorter chats can take pressure off you in trying to get it all out in one conversation. Also, your child will be more likely to absorb and understand what you say.

  • Start early. Talking to your child at an early age about drinking can help to establish a level of comfort in communicating about alcohol. When the pressure to drink does arise later in middle or high school, your child will know that they can come to you.

  • Be honest and clear. Take the time to discuss your views and opinions about alcohol with your child. Send a clear message regarding your expectations. Your child will be more likely to respect your rules if they feel you are being honest and straightforward with them.

  • Talk often. Frequent chats and spending time together helps to establish a strong and trusting relationship between you and your child. Check in with your child often. Learn about their interests, their friends and their worries. A strong, trusting relationship will make it easier to have serious conversations about things like alcohol and make your child more comfortable coming to you for advice.

Leanne Lenz is the executive director of Centre Helps.