Talking to Your Child Can Last a Lifetime
April 11, 2006
by Jenny Sanford & W. Lee Catoe
"This is your best report card yet!" "You played a great game today." "You were the most talented one in the recital!"
"Clean your room."
As parents, we talk with our children all the time. But one of the most important conversations you can have with your child is often neglected -- a clear, informed discussion of the dangers of alcohol use. As South Carolina observes April as Alcohol Awareness Month, it is important to understand the scope of the problem.
Did you know that 74 percent of sixth- through 12th-graders in South Carolina have tried alcohol? And that 32 percent of these students took their first drink, beyond just a few sips, before age 13?
While the encouraging news is that most fifth-grade children in our state are not using alcohol, it is still a decision that many face. How wisely they choose is up to us. Children and teens in South Carolina need to know how to reject underage alcohol use and how potentially damaging underage drinking is to their health * today and tomorrow.
But first, many parents must learn to communicate with their children. In general, the key is to establish open lines of communication early. Remember * children don't care what you know until they know you care. So building trust is essential to communication. But it cannot be done overnight. It is a process, not an event. It's actions and words * kids can spot hypocrisy a mile away.
And while kids don't like to be lectured, they do want to be able to talk about important issues with their parents -- just not in a forced manner. So know what you're talking about and use brief "learning moments" to make your points. Longer, more in-depth conversations may develop later.
Finally, don't underestimate the importance of setting a good example for your children. Children of drinkers are much more likely to drink, and children who "help" their parents drink by bringing them beer or pouring them drinks typically will drink more outside the home than other children and will experience more problems related to their drinking. So, too, will children whose parents allow them to drink in the home.
Still, as much as children need their parents, we often need support in our work to ensure the safety and health of our young people. To create a statewide dialogue that will enhance parents' efforts, the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS), with assistance from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is coordinating town hall meetings throughout the state, each one adopting the same theme: "Start Talking Before They Start Drinking." These meetings are bringing together public officials, parents and youth with community leaders and organizations in health, education, law enforcement, highway safety, and alcohol control to learn more about science and consequences of underage drinking, and to discuss how their communities can best prevent underage alcohol use by reducing demand, availability and access. Each meeting seeks to offer parents and other concerned adults the knowledge and tools to connect with today's youth about underage drinking.
The hub of South Carolina's conversation on underage drinking during April will be an hour-long, interactive discussion that will air on SCETV at 8 p.m. on April 12. Panelists consisting of a prevention professional, law enforcement official, parent and teenager will address the various aspects of this important issue and take calls from participants in town hall meetings as well as the general viewing audience.
So remember -- whether on your own or as part of an organized campaign -- don't underestimate the extent to which a parent's opinion matters to their children. The benefits of talking to your child about underage drinking can last a lifetime, and make a lifetime last.