As we prepare to send kids back to classrooms for another school year, it’s important to equip parents and caregivers with the tools for talking with their children about alcohol. This issue is especially personal for me because my beautiful 15-year-old daughter, Alisa Joy, was killed by an underage drunk driver. While the pain of losing a loved one to drunk driving is devastating, we at Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are committed to educating families about how to prevent such needless tragedies.
Teen alcohol use kills 6,000 young people each year, more than all other illegal drugs combined. However, research shows that three out of four teens say their parents are the number one influence on their decisions about alcohol. So it makes sense to provide parents with the tools to effectively harness their tremendous influence.
The most costly assumption parents make is “my kids are good kids, and I can trust they’ll make the right decisions.” Although, research shows that clear and ongoing communication about alcohol is critical in preventing underage drinking.
To help parents have the sometimes difficult, but potentially lifesaving, conversations about alcohol, we partnered with Pennsylvania State University’s Dr. Robert Turrisi on a program that is based on his handbook for parents of college freshman. That handbook was shown to significantly reduce underage drinking behaviors, even in households with below average communication.
Here are a few practical tips for communicating with teens about underage drinking:
Talk before a problem starts.
- Have the important discussions now, before there’s blame, anger or punishments.
- Agree on a time to talk about the dangers of alcohol — preferably when they’re not tired, hungry or angry.
Discuss rules and consequences.
- Explain expectations and tell them you don’t want him/her drinking.
- Agree on consequences for broken rules.
Show you care.
- Show affection and tell them that you care about them and want them to be healthy and safe.
- Even when life gets hectic, take time out to listen to them.
- Know where they are and what they’re doing.
Give and get respect.
- Listen and respond respectfully when they talk.
- Insist that they treat you with respect too.
The program, titled Power of Parents, It’s Your Influence™, also includes a community-based component with free 30-minute workshops aimed at providing the tools to talk with teens about the dangers of underage drinking. During the workshops, parents, caregivers and other attendees receive the parent handbook — an easy-to-use, take-home guide for talking with teens about alcohol.
While I did have conversations with my daughter about the dangers of underage drinking and getting in the car with a driver who’s been drinking, I didn’t discuss it often enough. Now I wish I had. These are important conversations for all families to have on an ongoing basis. What better time to begin than now? It could, after all, be lifesaving.
Jan Withers, MADD National President