When I learned recently that 11% of 8th graders nowadays drink alcohol, I nearly fell off of my chair.
Sure, I was no saint in 8th grade – I distinctly recall having to come into to school on a Saturday to pick up trash on the school grounds as a form of detention for not being where I was supposed to be during class time one day – but I definitely don’t remember alcohol being a part of my social equation until 11th grade. And even then, I was just 1 year shy of the minimum drinking age of 18 since I was in Quebec.
But, at the #TalkEarly Summit that I attended over the summer, Dr. Anthony Wolf, a practicing child psychologist, author, speaker (and parent!) blew me away with the statistics. The biggest lesson for me was that the issue of underage drinking was no longer just an abstract concept or one to worry about later; with a very curious and very ‘grown’ fourth-grader, I realized that I was going to have to become very serious, very fast about having honest conversations about alcohol.
Now Is the Time
Dr. Wolf spent a lot of time speaking with us about The Adolescent Brain and how it works. Of course we know the typical teenage stereotypical behavior: moody, withdrawn, emotional; but what really hit home for me was that these behaviors literally occur because of how their brains are developing. I fell in love with the infographic, above, as soon as I saw it. Just this morning my daughter asked if I could take her to school because Hubby takes her each day. “But I pick you up everyday!” I said. “Yeah, but not yesterday, Mom. And I missed you.” It’s true, I had a work meeting and her dad did double duty. I had her sit in the bathroom with me this morning while I got ready for the day and we “pretended” that we were in the car together so we could chat. It’s in these moments that I realize just how precious her desire to spend time with me (and her dad) really is. If I have any memory of my own teenage-dom whatsover, I remember wanting to spend each waking moment anywhere except with my parents. It’s just the way it goes.
Which is why the time to have these important conversations with her is now. Before she becomes allergic to me and before she decides that she doesn’t “need” me, we’ve got to talk.
Not surprisingly, “talking” in this context, according to Dr. Wolf, largely means listening.
Some Strategies To Get Started
- Be genuine and honest, but age-appropriate.
- Make it short and sweet.
- Don’t totally wing it. Have some concrete talking points in your head.
- Be prepared to answer hard questions.
- Look in the mirror. How are you modeling drinking behaviors?
And How About That Script?
I asked Dr. Wolfe specifically about how to approach this conversation with a 9-year old. He had some great advice to share, including that children in this age group need to know the WHY behind the asks we are making of them. This shouldn’t come as a surprise right? I am questioned by my tween on the daily about any and everything! Some reasons why drinking alcohol is not a good idea that would make sense in her mind are:
- It’s not good for a growing body.
- It’s not good for a healthy lifestyle.
- It can contribute to bad judgement (and the related consequences).
For the older set, talking about how drinking can hurt their performance in school, in sports, and possibly damage their reputations amongst their social circles – as well as subject them to possible dangerous sexual situations – has proven to be the best way to go. In fact, just the other day I was at a talk being given by Rosalind Wiseman about her new book “Masterminds and Wingmen” and she brought up 2 boys to share their perspectives. The both told the audience that the common ‘scare tactics’ to discourage underage drinking – like the emotional drunk driver commercials – are totally ineffective; apparently the ONLY thing that stuck was the fear of not being able to play sports with their teammates (because of being suspended). Food for thought.
No matter what your approach, no matter what the age of your child and no matter what their touchpoints are, the most important thing to keep in mind is: