Tips for Parents About Middle School Drinkers

Don't wait until there is a crisis

Teen Girl Drinking
Alcopops Are a Favorite for Young Drinkers. © Getty Images

Children who begin drinking while they are in middle school or earlier usually have a wide variety of problems that last well into their adulthood. What can parents do to prevent early onset drinking?

Almost 20% of 14-year-olds say they've been drunk at least once, according to a U.S. Surgeon General report, and one-fourth of 8th graders have reported being drunk, according to the Monitoring the Future Survey.

Another study, by RAND Health, found that three-quarters of 7th graders had used alcohol.

A Signal of Other Problems

Early onset drinking is a signal that the child will likely develop other problems in young adulthood, including employment problems, abuse of other drugs, and committing criminal and violent acts before age 23.

Other studies have found that children who begin drinking prior to age 15 have a much greater chance of developing more serious substance abuse problems in adulthood.

In light of these statistics, members of The Science Inside Alcohol Project at American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have developed five suggested steps parents can take to talk with their kids about alcohol.

Five Tips for Parents of Middle School Students

Here are the five suggestions from The Science Inside Alcohol Project:

Find Teachable Moments — We live in a culture of celebrity. If a celebrity your child admires admits to a drinking problem, or an instance of alcohol abuse occurs in your community, talk about it.

Ask your middle school student if she knows anyone who drinks alcohol and whether it is at parties or has been brought into her school. Answer questions. Have this conversation often.

Talk to Your Kids When Everything is Fine Middle school students are volatile, hormonal beings. They are sweet and wonderful one moment and blow up the next.

Pick a time when things are quiet and they're a captive audience such as in the backseat of your car. Don't take no for an answer.

Engage Your Kids in the Science of Alcohol Adolescents are incredibly self-involved. Alcohol can cause memory loss, impair sports performance, incite embarrassing behavior and affect how they feel and look. Make them aware of these facts. If there is a history of alcoholism in your family, explain about genetic predispositions towards alcohol abuse.

Be Vigilant There's no alternative to monitoring your kids. Have an early curfew. Know where they are at all times. Even if you are not home on a weeknight, make sure you can reach your kids by phone. Get to know their new friends and their parents. Find out what their rules and level of engagement are.

Learn to Trust Your Child — Now's the time when all the work you've put into creating a value system for your child begins to pay off. Set limits and enforce rules, but remember to give your child room to make his or her decisions, within your comfort zone. Praise them when they do well. It's worth a thousand words.

Is your child using drugs or alcohol? Are you sure? Answering ​20 questions about addiction can help you recognize some of the tell-tell signs.

American Association for the Advancement of Science "Middle-Schoolers and Alcohol: Tips for Parents from The Science Inside Alcohol Project at AAAS," 5 Sept. 2008.