It's never too early to start the conversation about drinking so that your kids can make healthy, responsible choices about alcohol as they grow up. Here's what they should know at every age.
Young Kids (Ages 5-9): Kids begin developing their ideas about alcohol at this age based on the examples they see from the adults around them. Explain to them why adults may choose to drink, and how the people around them are making safe choices about drinking. Talk to them about all of the reasons it's best to wait until they're an adult to make these decisions, and what the basic risks could be if they start too early or make unhealthy choices at any age. The effects they may relate to the most is how drinking can affect their health. Thinking of problems with alcohol as a sickness that hurts their bodies and brains is a more effective frame than discussing things like social consequences.
Pre-teens (Ages 10-12): At this crucial age, you can start talking a bit more openly about the dangers of drinking, and begin to prepare them for resisting peer pressure and making good choices. One big myth to expel is that many kids think that everyone their age is drinking through pop culture, advertising and rumors. Let them know that's far from the truth, and that in any case, it's up to them to make their own decisions about everything in their lives, including drinking. Go through some strategies on how to say no and how to figure out alternatives to drinking if they find themselves in a situation where alcohol is present. Make sure that you're not the only one talking. Listening to them and getting to know how they're feeling is just as important, especially at this age.
Teenagers (Ages 13-18): When your child has reached the age they're most likely to start drinking, make the rules about alcohol use clear and well-known, as well as the consequences of breaking those rules. Those consequences can include both punishments of your own and more severe self-inflicted risks, like hurting their health, legal troubles, how it may affect their school and hobbies and other dangers. But always end these conversations on a positive note, letting them know that you trust them to make the best decisions.
When you do need to confront them about drinking, respect their privacy but be firm once you have solid evidence of their behavior. You may want to start with a casual conversation about what happened at a party after the fact. Don't threaten or accuse. If you do know for sure, explain to them why it was an unhealthy decision and follow through with the consequences you've decided on in the past. Don't minimize it. On the other hand, when you know they're making healthy decisions and avoiding drinking, encourage them to continue on this path and give them your support.
College Students (Ages 18+): Just because your kid has moved out of the house or on to a more adult phase of their life doesn't mean you have to stop talking about the decisions they make altogether, especially when it comes to their health. Drinking in college is still an issue that can lead to serious problems. Find a balance between accepting that drinking will likely be a part of their college life and that it's still something to be monitored and regulated. Give them the facts about what moderate drinking really is (no more than two drinks a day for men and one per day for women) and what the actual serving sizes of each type of alcohol are. They'll be making these decisions for themselves now more than ever, so it may help to remind them of things like the legal liabilities of underage drinking (before they're 21), their school's policies about drinking and how you're expecting them to balance their classes, schoolwork and activities as a priority before partying.
At any age, if you suspect your child may be struggling with alcohol, it's best to seek treatment as soon as possible before it becomes an even more serious issue. Since it was founded by Dr. M.K. (Khal) El-Yousef 26 years ago, Fairwinds Treatment Center has been considered one of the top drug and alcohol treatment centers thanks to its unique dual diagnosis methodology. This custom approach combines clinical treatment and therapeutic counseling to discover and treat the underlying psychological triggers behind addiction, helping families get back on the path to recovery.