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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

How to talk to teens about alcohol



teenalcohol.jpgNeed some help to talk to your teen about alcohol? April 21 is the annual day that Mothers Against Drunk Driving urges parents and teens to start the conversation. MADD even has a free Power of Parents website  available with resources and a free handbook you can have e-mailed to you that provides guidance on how to start the potentially lifesaving conversation.

Today St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster is kicking off the week before with a proclamation declaring the city’s commitment to stop underage drinking in preparation for PowerTalk 21 day — the annual day for parents and teens to start the conversation about alcohol on April 21.  MADD volunteers will be on hand at today's announcement at St. Petersburg City Hall, 175 Fifth St N today (April 12) at 2:45 p.m. to talk about workshops and resources.

If you can't make it, we have 9 tips here on what to say and do on a day intentionally positioned in advance of prom, graduation and other events where  teens may encounter alcohol.


More than 6,000 people die each year as a result of underage drinking — more than all other illegal drugs combined. But the good news is three out of four teens say their parents are the number one influence on their decision to drink.

So here's some tips on talking to your teens:

Do it with a caring attitude. The easiest way to start the conversation is to say, ”There's been a lot of talk about alcohol at teen parties and it's been weighing on my mind, I would like to talk with you about it. I know you are smart and have been told a lot about this at school, but I need to talk about this with you because I care about your health and I care about your safety. Can you give me a few minutes?"

Even if you stumble through it, think about it this way: The fact that you've even had a conversation is likely to have an impact. Admit to your kid, "I may not do this right, but if I don't do this I'll feel like a bad parent."

Talk about why it's important: Teens who drink alcohol are more likely to:
    Die in a car crash
    Get pregnant
    Flunk school
    Be sexually assaulted
    Become an alcoholic later in life
    Take their own life through suicide

It's the law. This is actually a reason kids respect. Most teens know it is illegal to drink under the age of 21. Still, they may assume they won’t get caught or they are unfamiliar with Zero Tolerance laws, which prohibit driving after drinking any amount of alcohol. Remind your son or daughter that police do receive complaints about parties. When police arrive, they may arrest all who have been drinking underage.  Discuss the potential consequences for breaking the law, such as the teen could have his or her license revoked or face expensive legal fees. The teen, you, and your family could be publicly embarrassed, since these arrests are routinely reported in newspapers. If a court date is scheduled, you may have to take time off from work and could lose pay. Teens rarely consider all the possible legal consequences. Discussing the implications can have an impact.

One way to get them talking would be with questions like:
--Do you know kids who drink? How has it affected them?

--Have you ever been offered alcohol by someone you knew?  What did you say? If you havent, but this does happen sometime, what would you say?

--What if someone really pushed you? What would you say? (This might be a good time to come up with some face-saving maneuvers like "I have an early practice tomorrow" or "I don't like the taste so I'm sticking with soda")

--Do you see any risks? Do you have any concerns?

Don't be discouraged by a teen who responds with "I dunno" and "Okay Mom" or "Whatever." They could be tired or trying to avoid a lecture or simply not in the mood, the handbook advises,  "Parents need to respect how a teen may feel and not force communication at a bad time. Let the matter drop and bring it up later. Try to pick a time when your teen will be open to talking."

You are likely to be asked about your past and your own behavior as a teen. Some parents set the ground rule that their own past is off limits and not relevant, but be forewarned this can lead to suspicion and resentment from a teen. Or you could go with "I did have a drink when I was younger. However, we did not know as much as we know now about the risks of alcohol. How early binge drinking is more likely to cause lifelong alcohol problems. If I had known then, I would have done things differently. This is why I am talking to you about it."

Discuss your family’s rules about alcohol and agree ahead of time on the consequences for breaking the rules, such as loss of the car (and/or phone, computer, video games)  for a month and a  much earlier curfew for a month. Emphasize that you hope at the end of the month they will think about making better choices.

Keep it constructive. Do your best his to help them, not attack, to keep communication channels open. Most of all, be constructive
in your responses to your teen, not defensive or angry. Emphasize that you care about them, want to understand them, want to help them and respect their desire to be independent. Studies show that when teens feel they can trust their parents and are trusted by them, they are less likely to drink, MADD says.

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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[Last modified: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 12:15pm]


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