ecently a parent reached out to our team after learning that her 12-year-old daughter’s classmates had been rushed to the hospital for alcohol poisoning on school grounds.
Below is a message sent from Rich Legacy Founder, Bradley Callow, to help support the mother and her daughter during this scary and confusing time.
“It pained us to hear about such a tragic and frightening incident happening to children at such a young age. Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more common.
You brought up an interesting point in your own daughter’s experience, which is empathy. I didn’t outline that part of the conversation in this email I put together this morning, but it is important.
Helping children understand that even when others make poor choices, there is a place for empathy. We all make poor choices, they just may be different poor choices than others choose to make.
It’s important to offer support to people when they make poor choices to help ensure they don’t make the same decisions again.
This applies to the children drinking as well.
I hope you find this information helpful, and as always, I am here to help in any way I can.
All the best,
When talking to your kids about alcohol, we recommend applying Rich Legacy’s 5 Principles of Family Alignment. When these principles are top of mind you will have powerful and impactful conversations.
Principle 1 – The Best Parents Focus on Connection
Having trust and rapport with your child is important when discussing any topic, but especially one this serious.
Take some time with your son or daughter to spend one-on-one time to help reinforce your relationship. This could be as simple as grabbing a bite or going for a walk, but this builds trust. The more trust you have, the more likely your children are to open up and come to you when they’re struggling.
If you have a daughter, face to face time is ok when it comes to these kinds of conversations. They typically respond better in the morning, but every child is different when it comes to when they are most talkative.
Boys, on the other hand, respond much better to uncomfortable conversations in the late afternoon or early evening. They also prefer to avoid eye contact and be doing something physical while they talk. A walk, or passing the football work well.
Be sure to show them respect. Just like adults, kids want to feel heard and validated. If there was an incident where their peers were caught drinking share how proud you are of them for not being involved.
Principle 2 – The Best Parents Promote Mutual Understanding
With a foundation of trust, you have the opportunity to gain insight and understanding into how your child thinks and operates in regards to alcohol so you can move forward in a more strategic and collaborative manner.
Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. Find out how much your kids already know about alcohol.
Why do people drink? Why is drinking dangerous? Have they tried drinking, or have any of their friends? What are the legal consequences to drinking underage? Why is drinking more dangerous underage?
Try not to interrupt. Just listen, without judgment. Remember, they don’t have the life experience you do.
At this point, you can share facts. However, health-related facts don’t mean much to teens and tweens because they feel invincible. Talk about real-world consequences that could happen now instead of over time.
If a teenager drinks before they are 15 they are 7 times more likely to be in a car crash because of drinking, and 11 times more likely to suffer unintentional injuries after drinking.
Teenagers who get drunk are far more likely to:
- injure themselves or someone else – even accidentally
- engage in unsafe sex, which could result
- in sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies
- be robbed – especially of cash, iPods and mobile phones end up going home with a stranger on their own
- get in a fight, an argument or have relationship problems
- get into trouble with the police and end up with a criminal record.
Principle 3 – The Best Parents are Balancing Authority with Collaboration
Thanks to your increased understanding of their current relationship with alcohol, you have the opportunity to help your child come up with the families expectations and rules (including consequences if rules are broken) regarding alcohol.
Let your children come up with these rules. You can ask questions to make sure everything is covered, but avoid telling them, “these are our rules”. Make them part of the creative process to ensure they have a sense of ownership and buy-in.
For example, “Given what we know about the dangers of alcohol, what rules should we put in place regarding underage drinking to help make sure you stay safe?”
We also challenge you to come up with a consequence that is removed should the child come to you first and share they broke the rule versus finding out from an outside source.
Principle 4 – The Best Parents are Influencing by Being Role Models
Now that you’ve agreed to family consequences based on the need to keep the children safe, what about the adults?
Lead by example. If you do drink, drink responsibly.
It sends a VERY powerful message to your children if you work with them to set your own rules as adults for drinking and corresponding consequences. For example, drinking more than two drinks and driving is not allowed in this family. If the parents break this rule they are not allowed to drink for a month.
This approach in contrast to, “do as I say, not as I do” is confusing for kids and often makes them do the opposite of what you ask just to express their frustration.
Kids won’t always listen to what you say, but they will often follow your example. Regardless of whether that example is positive or negative.
“According to the 2012 GfK Roper Youth Report, 73% of children aged 13 to 17 say that their parents are the number one in influence on whether they drink alcohol. A survey by the YMCA in 2008 found that parents were important influencers, but that they weren’t seen by most teenagers as good role models and didn’t set ground rules that they stuck to. Only 21% said that their parents or other adults they knew were good role models. Although 55% of young people say that their school provides clear rules and boundaries, and their behavior is monitored in the community by neighbours and others, barely a quarter (27%) say they have to abide by clear rules and consequences in their family, or that their parents keep track of where they are.”
Principle 5 – The Best Parents are Empowering Their Kids
Print out and sign the families rules regarding alcohol use in order to cement everyone’s commitment. This affords your children the opportunity to take ownership of their actions and the repercussions.
If your children should drink alcohol, we encourage you to allow them to experience the consequences. The consequences will be the same list they came up with when you discussed how your family will address underage drinking. It is essential that you do not change your mind or back out. If you can’t enforce the consequences than you have chosen poor consequences.
Screaming and yelling makes children less likely, to be honest in the future. It’s more important to ask questions about what motivated them to drink. What drinking did for them, and why they thought it was a good idea. Yelling just makes a child feel like they can’t speak their mind. Not what you want when looking to determine their motivations to help ensure it doesn’t become a regular occurrence.
Keep in mind it is normal for teens and tweens to push the boundaries. This is how they find out who they are, and who they are not.
The goal of these conversations is to teach your children that we all make mistakes, but it’s how we move forward learn from them that makes us who we are. Teaching children resilience is the most important life skill of all.
Conclusion – The Best Parents are Parenting Smarter Not Harder
How to spot alcohol use in your children:
- abrupt mood swings for no apparent or good reason
- skipping classes, or just not going to school
- frequent lateness
- money disappearing from your purse/wallet
- disappearing to their room the moment they come in for the day
- a significant change in school performance
- restlessness or tiredness
- smelling of alcohol
- suddenly using breath mints or brushing teeth regularly
- wanting to stay over at friends’ houses all the time
- becoming very secretive (more so than usual)
If your family is struggling to have this conversation, or any other difficult parent to child conversation, we are here to help.
Email us at [email protected] to speak with a family expert who will support you as your family navigates the challenging waters of being parents in the digital age.