Many parents want their children to have as long of a childhood as possible. The realities of adulthood are heavy topics and we don’t want our kids anticipating the stresses of adolescence and young adulthood at an elementary age. So when do we start talking to our kids about things like substance use, especially that nearly ubiquitous alcohol.
Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann says age 9. This is the age when kids typically start thinking about alcohol in a positive way. Given that over half of teens report drinking alcohol, it’s safe to assume that your child likely has opportunities to drink. Talking with your kids about the impacts and risks of alcohol equips them to respond to situations where alcohol is present. As your kids get older, they’ll be able to process some of the more emotionally gripping risks such as date rape. For younger kids, it’s important that they are aware that their parents disapprove of underage drinking and some concept of why. When making healthy choices about alcohol use is a part of your family culture, your kids are more likely to also make healthy choices.
However, even kids from loving, communicative, and supportive families end up drinking. Before you start haranguing yourself or your kid, remember that their brains are still developing. Teenagers make bad decisions and alcohol can make that worse. Helping them understand the ramifications of those choices and the social influences at work is an important part of learning from mistakes.
Psychology Today has a great article with advice on how to answer specific questions your child may have about alcohol. For an in-depth guide on teens and alcohol, including conversation strategies, guidelines, prevention strategies, warning signs, and other resources, here is a link to a Health and Human Services publication.