April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and the perfect time to discuss alcohol risk and safety with your children. This is an opportunity to decrease stigma and misunderstandings through education, as well as prevent bad habits from starting. How can we do this? Technology is one way we, as parents, can enhance our communication with our children. Let’s not let them own it all; we should also embrace it as a tool for communication!
We’re living in the age of instant entertainment: video games, Snapchats and text messaging, and music streaming are just some of many distractions. So, how are parents to capture and keep their children’s attention? Furthermore, how do we ensure that our advice resonates with our children when we know they’re receiving conflicting messages online?
Stop looking at technology as an obstacle, rather than a utility. As many parents know, as technology becomes more accessible and convenient for young people, communicating the “old way” (through actual talking) often becomes more difficult. One of the keys to communicating with anyone – including your children - is understanding where they are and then meeting them there. Become familiar with texting, Snapchat and Facebook – communicate with your child regularly and on their level. To this end, it’s your responsibility to monitor what they’re posting.
Despite its certain importance, you likely know that social media is not the only form of digital communication. Now more than ever, text messaging is a primary method of communication for teenagers. Parents tend to reject text messaging as a form of communication, labeling it as impersonal or difficult. However, this misconception only exists because of a generational gap; your children are digital natives, born and raised in a world where technology as a first resort is the standard. The key to establishing a respectful digital relationship with your children comes down to setting limits. For more information on how to be aware of and set limits around your child’s text message usage, check out this article from the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
In the past, online interventions have been used primarily for college students, but today’s children, digital natives, require a different approach. For example, resources like these training tools from EduRisk are a great start, and allow you to customize your content based on age group.
Diminish ambiguity by defining moderation and credibility. In conversations with their friends, on the internet, and through television/film, children are receiving mixed signals about what is responsible alcohol consumption. It’s vital to their health that you make it clear they should not be consuming in the first place. However, you should confront the reality that, if they do, they need to know how it impacts them and when to stop.
So, how does alcohol impact our children? A young person’s brain and body are continuously developing. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience both educational and social setbacks, legal problems, unwanted pregnancy, assault, memory problems, or even death from alcohol poisoning. In general, youth who start drinking before age 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life, compared to those who began drinking at or after 21 years of age.
Defining moderation can be difficult because, realistically, it’s a subjective notion. So, draw your line in the sand and define moderation for yourself and your child. To help them understand, use references they’re familiar with, based upon what you know about them and their social life. If you struggle with this, it’s okay – start with simplified perspectives such as, “moderation means you aren’t drinking to get drunk,” or, “you’re always self-aware and know when it’s time to stop.” Also, helpful in the definition of moderation and expectations, are already existing perspectives. For example, the Ad Council has produced The Ultimate Party Foul, an anti-underage drinking campaign that provides resources and advice. Parents Empowered also has a robust showcase of anti-underage drinking campaigns from which you can draw inspiration.
You’ll need to teach your children how to discern what is credible online, and what is not. This may seem easy for someone with life experience, but the internet is full of deceit and misinformation, and your children will not often be able to tell the important difference between trustworthy and not.
Become a truly engaged parent, and champion the issue in your physical community. It’s imperative that your children receive consistent information about alcohol consumption, at home and in school. Engaging with your local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) chapter is a good way to establish a platform for this dialogue. Joining and being active in these groups allows you to stay involved in many facets of your child’s life, and can give you a look into the reality of their day-to-day. Not to mention, it’s a great way to make friends, learn about public happenings, and affect real change in your community. Harry Truman once said, “Decisions are made by those who show up.”
Attend (or create) community events for parents and children alike to come together and openly discuss the issue. For example, the Alliance for Safe Kids held their “Save a Life” event on Sunday, April 2nd, with the goal of informing and empowering students through engaging workshops and speakers. The more comfortable parents are talking about alcohol safety, the better their children will understand it. Break down the wall between the issue and the community, and everyone will benefit.
During the high school years, rebelling against parental figures is routine. Teens readily give the impression that they don’t respect their parents’ opinions. But—surprise—psychologists have discovered that they do. So, communicate! And use technology to your advantage – if they can figure it out, so can you. Do a bit of soul-searching to decide what your message should be, and then communicate it clearly. Discuss moderation and safety.
Finally, don’t make alcohol safety a passing conversation only. Be consistent with your message, and let it be clear that it applies not only in your home, but in your community, as well – because that is where your child will be asked to make decisions about risk and safety.