I’ve been thinking a lot lately about alcohol and my kids. Sure, Mitch is only ten but I like to be prepared. Actually, I’m never at all well prepared for anything but given how completely unprepared I was when I had kids, I’m making up for no effort!
I imagine teenage-land is a scary place – for kids and for us parents watching our kids go through so many changes. I was a teenager once, but apart from being moody at times (what’s changed really) I don’t remember it being tooooo angsty. Mum and dad
will may disagree!
One thing which scares me more than anything else is alcohol and binge drinking and the risk-taking behaviour that goes with it; the experimentation, the testing of boundaries and the questioning of authority which is a rite of passage for teenagers – you know, normal stuff for building their independence. Drugs and smoking worry me too, but I’ll stick with alcohol for this one.
I remember drinking most weekends when I was in my late teens, then into my 20s and boy those late 20s at Channel 7 were non-stop. Classic binge drinker – only on weekends. But I could never drink too much because I’d throw up. Every. Single. Time. So I guess in some ways I was lucky because my body didn’t allow me to drink too much so I never really felt out of control. And it’s funny because a lot of the time, after a couple of hours out, all I’d want to do is go home and read a book and make myself a grilled toasted cheese sandwich with those plastic Kraft Singles. Wasn’t really up with the introvert/extrovert thing back then. If I’m completely honest with myself, I probably drank to make it easier to deal with being out and about amongst a lot of people. Perceived peer pressure too. I drank because everybody else did and it was fun, despite the inevitable spew. (Yes, I’m all Klass.)
These days I rarely drink. And yep, I’m the odd one out. People all around me guzzling alcohol and being loud, funny, extroverted and me: quiet, not so funny and completely introverted but thankfully in a space where it doesn’t matter to me that I’m the odd one out. That’s the old belonging versus fitting in thing I blogged about previously.
My kids will feel the pressure though. Teens just want to fit in. Generally, they couldn’t really give a stuff about what their parents say or try to teach them. So I did some research about talking to your teen about alcohol. Here’s some nifty tips from the Drug Info website if you could be bothered reading them, otherwise scroll through:
Make sure you are well informed
- If your teenager asks you a question and you aren’t sure of the answer, don’t just guess. Be honest, admit that you don’t know, and look for the answer together, using information from books, the internet, or a health professional. This shows them how they can uncover reliable health information in the future.
- Give your child an informal quiz about issues and scenarios involving alcohol and other drugs, to highlight some of the important information they will need to know. You are likely to learn a lot too.
- Remember that, as they get older, young people will make their own decisions about whether or not they will drink alcohol. It is important that you teach them how to stay safe, and minimise the effects, if they do end up drinking.
Be involved in their lives
- Get to know their friends, so that you always know who they are with and where they are going.
- Make an effort to get to know their friends’ parents. This keeps communication open and can be a great support when you are facing difficult situations.
Get them to talk
Sometimes young people are reluctant to talk to their parents about sensitive issues. Here are some strategies that may help:
- Start talking openly about alcohol when they are young so they understand it is not a taboo subject when they are older.
- Pick the right time. Don’t try to talk about emotional issues when either of you is hungry, tired, upset, under the influence of alcohol, or if friends are present.
- Spend time with your children to build your relationship and to allow plenty of time for incidental chats. For example, walking the dog together, travelling in the car or playing a sport or game together are situations where they are more likely to remain present.
- Try to eat dinner together as a family, and discuss what each of you has been doing.
- Try to keep a weekly block of time for family activities.
- Use prompts from television, advertising or newspapers to start a discussion.
- Take advantage of times when they want you to do something for them, as they may be more likely to be cooperative.
- Importantly, don’t make every quiet time you are together a time for deep discussion or they may begin to avoid those situations.
Set a good example
Teenagers can spot a hypocrite a mile away, so make sure you set a good example if you want them to make good choices. Model sensible drinking practices by:
- Drinking sensibly and keeping track of the number of standard drinks you are consuming.
- Showing them how to refuse a drink that is offered by a friend. Adults can find this hard enough, so imagine how difficult it must be for a young person fighting for acceptance from peers.
- Showing them the size of a “standard drink”. Many adults are surprised to see that a standard drink is often a lot smaller than the standard serve in a glass, can or bottle. This will make it easier for them to keep track of how much they are drinking, when the day comes.
- Being aware of the words and descriptions you are using when you talk about alcohol. For example, when you say, “This has been a really tough week, I need a drink!”, you are giving a clear message about the role of alcohol.
When you finally get to talk
- Make sure you listen to them, and don’t just do all the talking yourself.
- Give feedback. Nod and ask questions so they know you are really listening.
- Try not to preach, as that may just encourage them to rebel.
- Remember to give positive feedback when they have made good decisions.
- Resist bringing up past mistakes.
- Remember that limit testing and experimentation is a normal part of growing up.
- Consider the pressure they are under from their peers, and from the media and advertising. This doesn’t mean you should give in to their demands, but it can help you to understand the pressures they are feeling.
What to talk about
- Be honest about the enjoyable, and the less enjoyable, sides of drinking alcohol and they are more likely to trust what you say.
- Talk about the effects of alcohol. The dangers and safety issues such as aggression, reduced inhibitions, poor judgement, and the feeling of regretting their actions the next day.
- Make sure they understand that no matter what happens, they can call you at any time if they are in trouble or feel unsafe.
- Talk about how to deal with peer pressure. This is hard enough for adults to deal with, so they could probably use your support.
- Talk about drink spiking, and the importance of friends looking out for each other.
- Discuss the types of drinks they might be offered—particularly the “alcopops” that taste sweet but have a high alcohol content.
- Let them know you don’t support their drinking, and that if they drink heavily or frequently they will need to get help from a health professional.
- Set firm limits, and if two parents are involved, make sure you support each other.
So, not much really! I don’t care what people do and the amount they drink as long as they don’t get in a car or decide to belt someone who looks at them the wrong way – but sometimes I find myself wondering why people seem to drink so much. Is it to help them relax, fit in, love the taste? All of the above I imagine. But then I remember my chocolate addiction and the fact it’s my version of a glass of wine to reward myself for getting through the day so I do get it. I had to really question my motives about why I kept drinking when it made me so ill (I think we’ve all figured out by now that I don’t just stop at one) and it was really just to fit in – because everyone did it and I didn’t want to be seen as someone different (you know, a boring, introverted sober person!) It’s only in the past few years that I’ve felt comfortable enough with my boringness and introversion not to worry about it and now I’ll only binge on the odd occasion because I really feel like it and not for any other reason.
I hope my kids feel comfortable in their own skins without having to completely over-indulge to the point of blacking out or doing something stupid. Hopefully Anth and I can be some sort of role models in terms of why we drink and why we don’t. God knows I’ve completely failed in the non-swearing role model thing. Fuck it.