April marks Alcohol Awareness Month, which was founded by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in 1987. According to the council’s website, the aim is “to help reduce the stigma so often associated with alcoholism by encouraging communities to reach out to the American public each April with information about alcohol, alcoholism and recovery.” This includes awareness campaigns and events in communities throughout the country.
For parents of teenagers, it can be a reminder of how challenging these years are and the destructive role that alcohol can play in teens’ lives. Here are several things for parents to remember when navigating these difficult times.
Start the conversation
Parents naturally may be hesitant about having discussions about alcohol with their children. It’s daunting to realize that they have reached an age when alcohol can become a major issue, and some parents may be in some state of denial that these talks are necessary. One key is to be open about such conversations, and to establish trust. Here are a few tips from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Foster open discussion: “Encourage your child to talk about whatever interests him or her. Listen without interruption and give your child a chance to teach you something new. Your active listening to your child’s enthusiasms paves the way for conversations about topics that concern you.”
- Present open-ended questions: “Encourage your teen to tell you how he or she thinks and feels about the issue you’re discussing. Avoid questions that have a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.”
- Be aware of your emotions: “If you hear something you don’t like, try not to respond with anger. Instead, take a few deep breaths and acknowledge your feelings in a constructive way.”
- Stay positive: “Don’t lecture or try to ‘score points’ on your teen by showing how he or she is wrong. If you show respect for your child’s viewpoint, he or she will be more likely to listen to and respect yours.”
Keep the conversation going
Considering how alcohol can be glamorized in commercials, television, music and movies, parents face plenty of challenges in having serious talks with their children. Some parents may feel that alcohol use is inevitable, and that a conversation will be the equivalent of a lecture, which teens will then tune out. In a story for The Huffington Post, author and addiction expert Constance Scharff writes that despite “the eye rolls and exasperated expressions,” kids are listening.
“What’s important is that parents not make these conversations one off ‘talks’ in which everyone is on edge, waiting for the conversation to end,” she writes. “Instead, frequently discuss with your children your expectations of them. Talk to them about the consequences of their actions, about how they can’t always see around the corner, but you can. For example, young people who drink are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than those who don’t. A night of drinking that ends in rape and an unintended pregnancy are not the types of scenarios young people are thinking about when they grab a bottle out of someone’s liquor cabinet. Don’t scare your kids, but be real with them about what drinking can do.”
Set the right example
It’s one thing to discuss the dangers of abusing alcohol. Parents that engage in such behavior can have a hard time convincing their children to avoid it. As Scharff writes, “… You can rest assured that your behavior will have far more impact on your kids than anything you say to them.”
“If you abuse substances or use alcohol or other drugs to help you cope with emotional problems, or you binge drink — you can rest assured that anything you say to your kids about the negative consequences of drinking will go right out the door,” she explains. “No one likes a hypocrite. If you have a substance abuse problem, get help. As a parent, your actions have to match your words.”
Be realistic about the dangers
When teens see friends at a party having fun while drinking, they may believe that it’s a harmless thing to do. They may even feel left out by not taking part. But explaining the real effects of alcohol should be eye-opening for them, and help them to avoid getting lost in the party scene. Here are some tips on sharing these concerns.
- Effects on the brain: A person’s brain isn’t fully formed until the mid-20s. So alcohol can have a damaging effect on teenagers. As the National Institute for Drug Abuse reports, research shows that that heavy drinking can have a negative impact on the frontal lobes: “The frontal lobes help us make decisions, think about things, and pay attention. Teens who drink a lot have problems in these areas. Alcohol also can shrink the hippocampus, the brain area that helps with learning and memory.”
- Health issues: Teens that binge drink can encounter blood pressure and weight problems early, according to org: “Just one regular beer contains about 150 calories, which adds up to a lot of calories if someone drinks four or five beers a night.”
- Risky behavior: “Binge drinking impairs judgment, so drinkers are more likely to take risks they might not take when they’re sober,” the kidshealth.org story states. “They may drive drunk and injure themselves or others. … People who have impaired judgment may have unprotected sex, putting them at greater risk of a sexually transmitted disease or unplanned pregnancy.”
- Alcohol poisoning: This is “the most life-threatening consequence of binge drinking,” kidshealth.org reports. “When someone drinks too much and gets alcohol poisoning, it affects the body’s involuntary reflexes — including breathing and the gag reflex. If the gag reflex isn’t working properly, a person can choke to death on his or her vomit.”
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