It’s never too early (or too late) to talk to your kids about alcohol use and family expectations!
Former Health and Well Being/Positive Youth Development Educator with the University of Wisconsin-Extension Lincoln County, Debbie Moellendorf, provided the following information on the Small Talks and Parent Pact programs.
Parents are an important source of information for their children but don’t always realize this especially as their children get older.
That’s right. I sometimes hear parents of middle and high school youth say that their kids don’t listen to them anymore. Based on the results of our social norms surveys conducted every two years of middle and high school in Lincoln County, teens have told us consistently that parents are one of the most believable sources of information about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. So even though they may appear to not be listening, they value the information parents are sharing with them about these important topics.
Wisconsin has a new resource called Small Talks. Can you tell us more about this?
According to our local surveys, most middle and high school youth are making the healthy choice not to drink alcohol. Parents can help support their youth in continuing to make this healthy choice as they grow older.
Underage drinking isn’t a rite of passage. It’s not just curiosity or bad behavior, either. It is a community-wide challenge that affects Wisconsin families of all shapes and sizes. There are many reasons why children try alcohol, from peer pressure to unregulated marketing tactics. Kids may see it as a way to cope with trauma or difficulties in school, at home or in their community. No matter what, families aren’t to blame for underage drinking. But they can make a difference.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services created Small Talks to provide resources for families to have conversations with youth about the dangers of underage drinking. Having small, casual conversations with kids, starting around age 8, can help prevent underage drinking.
Why start talking when they’re 8?
Research shows this is when children start to form their earliest opinions about alcohol. Help your child sort out what they hear from friends or see on TV, before someone hands them a drink.
Underage drinking isn’t harmless fun. School-aged children are going through a critical period of physical and emotional growth. Kids who drink during this time can suffer real damage—exposing their developing brains, lives, and mental health to serious, even deadly, consequences. By talking with the kids in your life, you are helping them understand the risks of underage drinking by getting the facts for yourself.
How do kids get their hands on alcohol?
For most children, underage drinking usually happens at home or a friend’s house. But how kids get alcohol can change as they grow, and often depends on their age and how accessible beer, liquor, and other beverages are where they live and hang out.
- They sneak it – 2 out of 3 teens say it’s easy to take alcohol from home without a caregiver noticing. Unlocked liquor cabinets and beer fridges are easy places to access alcohol.
- They buy it – 25% of 11th grade drinkers admit to buying alcohol from a retailer, like a gas station or grocery, liquor, or convenience store.
- They ask for it -Often, older friends, siblings, and parents supply kids with alcohol. In fact, 1 in 4 teens report that they have attended a party where kids drank in front of adults.
What are some tips for having conversations with your children?
Every child is different, but knowing where most kids around your child’s age are in their development, can help parents and caregivers. The Small Talks website at SmallTalksWI.org provides resources for preschoolers to teens.
Small talks are short, casual conversations that help you connect with your child on the important stuff, like underage drinking. Having lots of small talks over time helps build trust and set expectations as kids change and grow. Luckily, there’s no big production necessary. Just choose the alcohol-free moment that feels right to you. You can have a small talk anytime, anywhere.
Tips for Starting Small talks (download the pdf):
What if I suspect my child is already drinking?
You can still make a difference. Have a conversation, not a confrontation. Set clear rules and expectations, and let them know they’re loved. have changed. Kids today try alcohol earlier, in larger amounts. Plus, we know a lot more about the risks of underage drinking.
If you suspect your child is using alcohol, you can reach out to a trained professional in our area for help. You can call 211 to get connected or check out the local resource guide created by the Healthy Minds Coalition.
We have also partnered with the Lincoln County Parent Support Network to develop the Lincoln County Parent Pact. This pact provides parents with guidelines about alcohol, bullying, weapons, cellphone and internet use, and much more. It also includes conversation starters to use with other parents when your children and their friends are at each other’s houses. The Parent Pact is endorsed by many community agencies and groups. Go to bit.ly/LCParentPact to learn more or download the pdf (2 pages).