Conversations To Have With Your Tween About Drinking

Jason has  started making beer. Once a month he gets together with his buddy to home brew and talk hops and bottling and boiling levels. Their beer is delicious and Jason had the fun idea to keg some so we can have it on tap when we entertain.

I was teasing him about this — Because a tap. In my house. — even though I’m actually supportive. I think people who work full time outside of the home have more obstacles in their way toward hobbies and passions and I’m proud of, and happy for, him that he’s found both.

But as we were bantering about the taps, I realized that the real concern was in the room next door. We have kids teetering on tweendom and we need to not only discuss drinking and choices and consequences with them, but also what to do if their friends want to try the alcohol on our shelves (and in our taps).

kegs

Incidentally, we’re not alone here. Even if your husband isn’t building a tap to live next to your piano, is there alcohol in your home? Then you’re right there with me. Let’s hold hands.

My parents had a very European attitude toward alcohol. I was offered wine and wine coolers at celebrations and sometimes with dinner. On the weekend of my high school graduation my dad gave a (very nice) waitress a look that I took to mean, “Oh yes, we’re in the States” when she said she couldn’t serve me a glass of wine to celebrate even though I was under the watchful gaze of my parents and even though my dad was doing the ordering.

I saw both of my parents and their friends drink wine with dinner and liquor in the evenings. There was a night when an (alcohol) line was crossed and we talked about that, too. While I still made some poor decisions in college and I can’t draw a straight line from their relaxed approach to a pristine choices record, I respect how they did things with me; they were honest, open, and straightforward.

Jason and I were discussing all of the above when our oldest came into the room and settled between us, stretching her long legs in front of her. The morning was slow with piled breakfast dishes and pajamas and books so we decided to include her in the conversation.

sunday-mornings

Once we had her attention, I was torn between wanting to parent her like I’d always be there to help her maneuver, and not tell her anything at all about drinking and alcohol and choices, and wanting to open her mind and pour my thoughts right into it.

We didn’t end up doing either one of these things.

What we did do is tell her that people, kids, who drink aren’t “bad” or “stupid.”

We practiced real words she can say if her friends want to try alcohol at our house or anywhere else. Her first response to this was, “My friends would never do that.”

So we also shared some of my experiences (not so much Jason’s, he was a straight arrow right through college) and practiced words that I suggested like, “My mom’ll smell that on me the second I walk in the door” or that Jason suggested, “My dad is c-r-a-z-y about his beer. Not touching it.” This conversation was awkward because it was theoretical, but still worthy because rolling her answers around a few times with us will make it easier for her to say them in real life situations.

We also discussed how alcohol works in our bodies, capitalizing on her love of science and understanding how and why things work. We stuck to facts, information she can use when making her own decisions.

And, for that day, we closed the conversation with, We won’t get mad at you if you try a drink.

This was sticky to wrap my mothering brain around. I’ve often asked Jason what made his path so dry and the only thing he can come up with is that he knew his parents would be so very disappointed in him if he did drink. This solid messaging is powerful — and tempting.

But I don’t know if it’s my bottom line. Kids make mistakes, are curious, and the important part for me is that if a decision feels sticky to her, she knows she can come talk to us, vent, ask questions, call for a ride.

Even as I write this, I feel that stickiness. It’s so much easier to be unwavering, to just say don’t drink. But I worry that none of this is really that straightforward.

I was talking to a friend about how very hard we’re all trying to get these conversations right. And she said that it’s like baby proofing your house but still teaching your babies to maneuver stairs and sockets and hard corners so they stay safe at grandma’s or day care or a friend’s house.

Parenting these sticky topics parallels that, doesn’t it? The tap locks are the baby proofing and the conversations are where the safe-keeping lies.

How will you maneuver these conversations? What are your bottom line messages?

kids

Some great resources for our own (parenting) safe keeping, our own dialogue, include:

What Alcohol Actually Does to Your Brain and Body by Kevin Purdy on LifeHacker is a technical and fact-based article about how alcohol mixes in our systems. It’s written for adults, so preview it first, but information is power, so use it as a springboard to teaching your kids facts. (*Blanket fear-based statements like Alcohol will ruin your life come from good intentions. But the first time they take a sip and their life remains intact, statements like these — and the people who make them — lose their relevancy.)

Cory Monteith’s death reminds parents to talk about drugs, alcohol and addiction by Shannan Younger on Tween Us is an important explanation and reminder why now is the time to talk to our tweens about alcohol and addiction; they’re not too young and they are listening.

The One Conversation That Could Save Your Teen’s Life by Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery is a poignant essay about why “just say no” is difficult, if not impossible, because no is really hard to say. Melton shares how she helped her tween practice “using his words” in tricky situations.

A Little Thinking About Drinking by Anna Whiston Donaldson of An Inch of Gray is a thoughtful essay about what our views about alcohol — from dry to a not-so-dry households — mean for our kids

Teenage Drinking Diaries on Room for Debate on The New York Times is a series of commenters sharing their own teenage drinking stories. Reading what kids are thinking about and experiencing in their own words is eye-opening.

Molly Ammon Spring Break Awareness is a community that Molly’s mom, Angie, started when 18-year-old Molly died from binge drinking at a party. I like this page for two reasons. The first is it’s a stark reminder that anyone’s kids can pick up a drink — this is all of our issue. And the second is that Angie’s message is that we need to teach kids how to look out for each other, that letting their friends “sleep it off” isn’t always safe (and can be deadly), and that they can, and should, ask for help, no matter why they need it.

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Comments

  1. Such a tough call! I was moderately rebellious in high school, and completely “naughty” when it came to drinking in college. I think your current version of discussion is great, especially including popular culture. It makes it seem more real.

  2. It feels sticky here too, because my perception and decisions keep changing. She is changing and what worked when she was younger falls flat now. I always remain true when we talk (we talk often about drinking because unfortunately, some of her friends have already started. I, admittedly, had my first drink in junior high) instead of wavering or seeming like I’m unsure where we stand. I won’t be mad but I want to know that I have taught her how to drink responsibly, how to not be pressured, how to look out for herself but also her friends. There are so many facets, so many moving pieces. I hope to not get tripped up.

  3. My parents encouraged me to try wine and beer when I was a teenager (to the point of making me feel like a prude that I didn’t wanto)… I’m not sure if it backfired or not. I was a complete goody two shoes in college – I can count on one hand the number of drinks I had – and I still don’t like the taste of either. Hard liquor now… mmm, I like a mixed drink!

    Perhaps the comparison is a bit too much here, but my feeling about alcohol is the same as my feeling about sex… I know they’re going to want to try it. I expect that they probably will… so I want to make sure that they do that safely. So I want to have frank, open and honest discussions about what can happen, the possible consequences, and how we will always be there to help if needed.

    Thankfully, I don’t have to start having these conversations yet, as the eldest is only four – but it’s something my husband and I have definitely talked about.

  4. I really appreciate that you posted about this, Galit. It is a VERY important topic that we have not completely broached in our family yet. But we need to. There is a lot of addiction on both sides of our families and although I will never tell my kids “You should never drink!” I will strongly advise them never to start. It’s just not something they need to even go there with…

    You and Jason are such good parents, these topics are touchy but necessary to cover.

  5. Wow. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea how I feel about this. And the whole issue gives me heart palpitations to just think about it. I didn’t drink until I was in college and, to me, there seems to be a big difference between high school and college. Then again, maybe I’m just naive. Ultimately, I want me kids to know that they can come to us when they need help – any kind of help, even if they did something that they shouldn’t have done to get themselves into that position. Oh gosh, just writing these things, is drawing up a whole lot of uncertainty in my brain. I think it might also depend on the individual child. Some children respond well to strong discipline and clear lines; others not so much. But you are right – let’s hold hands.
    Christie

  6. You’re right, it is sticky. There is so much that’s sticky to navigate. But I love your openness, your willingness to talk about it. Because of that your kids will make more informed choices. You’re a good mama, Galit.

  7. Galit. I am so very glad that you wrote this and shared it here. As a mother of an 11-year-old, I know that these are conversations that need to happen. And while we’ve discussed alcohol a bit at our house, we haven’t done it as much as I feel we need to. And so, your post has inspired me to think and talk.

    It’s important to give them practice, letting, as you say, the phrases roll around in the their mouths. Clunky, at first, like a new retainer, but smoother with use.

    Thanks for you and your heart.

  8. My kids are 15 and 17 so we’ve moved on from the drinking conversations (a lot like yours, sticky and hard and honest and full of “what do you think”s) to drugs and now sex.

    Gulp.

    It’s not easy to navigate the waters, that’s for sure; but the stakes are high. Life changing.
    In my experience, the talks we’ve had never went as we planned them to go; nothing about parenting has turned out the way I imagined it would.

    But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Taking it day by day. One step at a time.
    Each question and answer as they come.

    They go both ways, the questions and answers. And I do a LOT more listening than I ever thought.
    Perhaps that’s the biggest difference between my expectations about the “big lessons” and the reality.

    I use my ears more than my mouth.
    It works for us. For now.
    I hope.

  9. This is a tough one… At this moment, I am not going to complain about diapers, leaky boobs and sleepless nights:) I’m going to bookmark this page so I can review it and the thoughtful comments in ten years!

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