Why You Should Talk to Your School-Age Child About Alcohol

Parents should talk to kids as young as 9 years old about the dangers of alcohol

children and alcohol
Talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol when they are young. Sadi Ugur Okalu

Many parents may believe that talking to children about the dangers of alcohol is something we should do when kids reach the teen years. But in fact, doctors are recommending that parents and pediatricians begin talking to kids about alcohol much earlier, starting around age 9.

Why so early? For one thing, many children start becoming interested in alcohol at a young age, and a surprising number of kids are drinking at that age.

Moreover, children, adolescents, and teens who drink tend to consume large amounts of alcohol rapidly (binge drinking), making alcohol use even more dangerous for them, says a new report on binge drinking from the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). "Children start thinking positively about alcohol between the ages of nine and thirteen," says Lorena Siqueira, MD, Director of Adolescent Medicine at Miami Children's Hospital and co- author of the clinical report.

Reasons Why Parents Should Have the Alcohol Talk with Their Kids Early

  • Binge drinking is more dangerous for kids because they are physically smaller and are inexperienced with alcohol. Binge drinking for even the first time can lead to serious health consequences, even death, says Dr. Siqueira. "You can kill yourself with first-use of alcohol," says Dr. Siqueira. "You don't have to be an alcoholic for alcohol to be deadly."
  • As much as 92 percent of the alcohol consumed by kids ages 12 to 14 are done in the form of binge drinking, according to SAMHSA.
  • Messages about alcohol are everywhere, and most of it is positive. Kids see adults and older peers use alcohol and see advertisements about it everywhere. They see people drinking to calm down or have fun in TV shows and movies. They see people using it to relax, and hear and see messages like, "I've had a hard day--I could use a drink." 
  • Alcohol is closely related to the leading causes of death and serious injury in children and adolescents--namely accidents, suicides, and homicides, says Dr. Siqueira.
  • The proportion of kids who drink heavily is higher than adults: Among children and adolescents who drink alcohol, about 50 percent of those 12 to 14 years of age and a whopping 72 percent of those in the 18 to 20 years of age group are heavy drinkers, according to the AAP report.
  • Another shocking way of looking at this problem: as much as 92 percent of the alcohol consumed by kids ages 12 to 14 is in the form of binge drinking, per SAMHSA.

    More Facts to Keep in Mind About Kids and Alcohol

    • Talk with your child during those teachable moments. Discussing the dangers of alcohol with a child once isn't going to cut it. When you encounter opportunities to talk about this issue--such as when you see an advertisement for alcohol or see how characters use it in a movie or TV show--turn them into teachable moments and talk about how alcohol has been portrayed and what may be inaccurate about the message you're seeing.
    • Remember that alcohol can be a dangerous substance. Don't be relieved if you find out your child has experimented with "only alcohol." Parents might be relieved to find out that their child experimented with alcohol rather than drugs. But Dr. Siqueira points out that this is a mistake. "Alcohol is just as dangerous as prescription drugs or heroine," says Dr. Siqueira.
    • Know who your child's friends are. Ask your child questions like, "Do any of your friends drink beer or other alcoholic drinks?" or "Has anyone you know offered you an alcoholic drink or pressured you about drinking?" The social experience of drinking in a group is a know risk factor for kids' binge drinking, according to the AAP report.
    • Don't assume your child won't do it because he's a "good kid." As the statistics show, many kids and adolescents experiment with and abuse alcohol. All parents should talk to their child about the dangers of alcohol, whether or not they see their child as someone who wouldn't get into trouble or break the rules.
    • Don't exaggerate. While the dangers of alcohol are very real, saying things like, "If you drink even a little bit, you could die" are exaggerations that may undermine the message your trying to convey about the real dangers, says Dr. Siqueira.

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