Need some help to talk to your teen about alcohol? Today is PowerTalk 21, the annual day that Mothers Against Drunk Driving sets aside to urge parents and teens to start the conversation.
MADD has a free Power of Parents website available at www.madd.org with resources on starting the potentially lifesaving conversation.
More than 6,000 people die each year because of underage drinking — more than all illegal drugs combined. And three out of four teens say their parents are the top influence on their decision whether to drink.
The stakes are high. Teens who drink alcohol are more likely to:
• Die in a car crash
• Get pregnant
• Flunk school
• Be sexually assaulted
• Become an alcoholic later
• Commit suicide
But scare tactics alone won't make for a great ice-breaker. Here are some conversation tips from MADD, just in time for prom and graduation season:
Do it with a caring attitude. Start by saying, ''There's been a lot of talk about alcohol at teen parties and it's been weighing on my mind. We need to talk about this because I care about your health and your safety. Can you give me a few minutes?"
It's OKAY if you stumble. The fact that you've opened the discussion 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."
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 don't know that teens aren't permitted to drive after having any amount of alcohol. Remind your son or daughter that police do receive complaints about parties, and may arrest everyone underage who has been drinking. Discuss the potential consequences, such as losing their license, incurring legal fees, being publicly humiliated, even losing out on scholarships. And if they're drinking while driving, add death and lifelong disability to the list.
Start with questions. Do you know kids who drink? How has it affected them? Have you been offered alcohol by someone you knew? What did you say? If it hasn't happened yet, what would you say?
Don't be discouraged by silence or hostility. "Parents need to respect how a teen may feel and not force communication at a bad time,'' MADD advises. "Let the matter drop and bring it up later. Try to pick a time when your teen will be open to talking."
Expect the hot seat. Don't be surprised if your teen asks you about your own drinking history. Some parents set the ground rule that their own past is off limits and not relevant, but this can lead to suspicion and resentment. Or you confess past misdeeds and add something like this: ''However, we did not know as much as we know now about the risks of alcohol. If I had known then, I would have done things differently. "
Discuss your family's rules. Be clear and specific on the consequences for breaking the rules, such as loss of driving privileges and a much earlier curfew for a month if your teen drinks at a party. Emphasize that you hope at the end of the month they will think about making better choices.
Keep it constructive. 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.
The Whoa, Momma parenting blog is at tampabay.com. Follow Sharon and the other moms on Twitter @WhoaMomma.