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How to Talk to Your Kids About Alcohol

Nearly 80 percent of high school kids have tried alcohol. While it may not feel like it, parents have a significant influence on their children’s decisions. Kids who grow up with a supportive and nurturing parent relationship tend to make better decisions. 

However, you shouldn’t wait until your kids are in high school to talk to them about alcohol. Start talking to your kids about alcohol use and abuse at an early age and continue talking about it throughout high school and college. This creates an honest and open line of communication for your kids to ask questions, express concern or call for help if needed. 

Age-appropriate conversations about alcohol

The way you talk about alcohol with your kids will change over time. Here are a few tips for adapting your messaging to their developmental stages.

Preschoolers

Preschoolers are developing decision-making and problem-solving skills. This is the best age to start introducing habits that encourage your child to develop good decision-making skills. For example, let your kids pick out their own clothes at this age, even if they don’t match and offer encouragement for their independence. It’s a little early to talk about alcohol at this age, but preschoolers learn from what you do, not what you say. So, be sure to set a good example by being active, eating healthy and drinking responsibly. 

Ages 4-7

At this age, kids prefer to learn by experience and don’t completely comprehend things happening in the future. This is a good time to start talking to your kids about alcohol but keep discussions in the present tense. For example, you can point out things that happen on TV and encourage your child to ask questions about things they see at school. Start talking to them about how to keep their bodies healthy as they grow. Explain how alcohol can harm the body, and highlight senses they understand, such as making it harder to see, hear and walk.

Ages 8-11

At this age, kids are curious. They love learning facts and want to know how things work. Talk about alcohol facts, such as the short- and long-term effects mentioned below, behavioral consequences and why alcohol is dangerous for growing bodies. This is also a good time to start talking to your kids about peer pressure. Explain how they can set boundaries and say “no” in peer settings. These conversations should be casual and happen regularly, so they know they can talk to you about it at any time.

Ages 12-17

As your kids become teenagers, they should already understand the facts and risks of alcohol, but that doesn’t mean you should stop talking to them about it. Reinforce the information they already know and keep the lines of communication open. Keep in mind that this is a time when kids tend to push for independence and engage in risky behaviors. Make sure your child feels accepted and respected for who they are. This will encourage them to be honest with you. Avoid making threats. Instead, emphasize your love and concern for their wellbeing. Remember that it’s tough to navigate peer situations at this age, so offer a healthy degree of privacy and trust with your teen.

Effects of alcohol abuse

When talking to your kids about alcohol, it’s important to teach them about the effects alcohol use and abuse has on the body.

Short-term effects

  • Distorted vision, hearing and coordination
  • Altered perceptions and emotions
  • Impaired judgment, which can lead to accidents, drowning and other risky behaviors such as unsafe sex and drug use
  • Bad breath
  • Hangovers

Long-term effects 

  • Cirrhosis and cancer of the liver
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Stomach ailments
  • Heart and central nervous system damage
  • Memory loss
  • Increased risk of impotence
  • High risk for overdosing

Teaching your kids how to say “no”

Teaching your kids why they should avoid alcohol is crucial, but it’s also important to help them navigate how to do so. Peer pressure can be difficult for kids at any age to stand up to, so you should instill in your kids how to say “no” effectively. 

  • Allow your kids to set boundaries with adults and peers from a young age. For example, if you have family in town and they want to give your child a hug and a kiss, teach your kids that it’s okay to say “no” and ensure that your extended family respects their boundaries. This teaches kids at a young age to speak up for themselves and say “no” if they feel uncomfortable. 
  • When offered a drink, teach your child to ask what it is and where it came from before accepting. If it is an alcoholic drink, tell them to simply say, “no, thank you.”
  • It’s important that your kids know to always leave an uncomfortable situation. Make sure you or another responsible adult are available to pick them up. Have a “no questions asked” policy when it comes to picking your kids up. This will encourage them to be honest and safe if a situation gets out of hand. 
  • While it’s important to leave an uncomfortable situation, make sure your kids know to never accept a ride from a stranger or someone who has been drinking. Know where your kids are, and make sure there’s a plan to come get them if they need a ride.

Teaching kids about alcohol can be tough, but remember to start early, keep an open line of communication and lead with love and respect. For more healthy tips for the whole family, visit the INTEGRIS Health blog

 

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