By the time we reached our senior year of high school, my childhood friend Kathryn had quite a reputation. She was a party girl in every sense of the word, and I still think it's miraculous that she survived her drunk driving antics and wild hook ups. Her behavior was out of control, but I remembered a time when it wasn't.
We were just 11 years old when I stood with her in front of her dad's liquor cabinet and she mixed his tequila with her orange juice. We were young enough to play Crash Bandicoot after school, but apparently old enough for a cocktail.
According to Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder, a clinical psychologist and contributing author for the new alcohol resource website The Alcohol Talk, my friend wasn't abnormally young for first exposure to alcohol. In fact, the majority of teens Powell-Lunder surveyed for her research said that they became familiar with booze before entering the fifth grade.
I know what you're thinking, and you're right. Fifth grade is incredibly young to worry about booze. But Powell-Lunder is clear that talking to your kids about alcohol doesn't have to turn into a lecture or a lesson. "Talking to kids about alcohol is an ongoing process," she says. "These conversations should start when kids first become aware of alcohol, and parents should look for natural conversation openers."
If you're not sure where to start, think back to your last family reunion. Was anyone drinking a beer? Was a family member inebriated? Use these real-life examples to start the conversation, and lead with a question rather than a statement. For example, asking your child what she thinks about an uncle's drunken behavior will create a helpful dialogue, rather than telling your child what you think about the uncle.
Try to remember that these conversations can help, even if it looks like your kid isn't paying attention. "Parents don't always realize that the ways they communicate really do make a difference," expanded Powell-Lunder, "but three out of five teens acknowledge that talking with their parents has had a definite impact on their behavior."
So, start young and start respectfully. If you want to learn more about discussing alcohol with your child or dealing with problem behaviors, check out The Alcohol Talk for more information.
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