As parents, we hate to think about what could happen, and at the same time are ALWAYS thinking about what could happen. We push thoughts of our babies at parties and being offered alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc. right out of our heads. Our kids don’t run in those crowds, right? Not my kid. Wrong! Why?
Every child, every single one, will be exposed to things that we as parents don’t approve of.
Glennon Doyle talks about a conversation she had with a friend of hers whose daughter came home drunk:
|‘My friend wailed to me: “How many hours have we spent talking about alcohol during the past decade? And the first time she’s offered beer, she takes it. She TAKES IT!” I said: “Crap. What was her excuse for taking it?” My friend said: “All she could come up with is: ‘Mom – I DIDN’T WANT TO SAY YES- BUT I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO SAY.’” My friend thought this excuse was a load of crap. I wasn’t certain about that. It sounded quite familiar to me.
You know, Just Say No sounds good in theory. But it implies that saying no is as easy as saying yes. It’s just not. In practice, saying no begs an explanation and saying yes doesn’t. Just Saying No makes for an awkward moment, which makes it an unhelpful suggestion to teens (and people pleasers like me) who often care about avoiding awkwardness even more than they care about their own well-being.’
Think about that. She didn’t know what else to say. As parents that sounds inconceivable; she didn’t know what else to say?! What a crock! But take a moment to think back to when you were younger. Were you prepared the first time you had to turn down alcohol or cigarettes? Did you turn 50 shades of red, while meekly rejecting the offer? Did you politely accept, feeling like refusing would cause a confrontation you were not prepared to deal with? Or did you initially say no, but then cave to the pressure from your peers to fit in because it’s “no big deal” and “everyone is doing it.”
We can probably put ourselves into one of those categories at least once in our lives. So, how can we prepare our kids for these situations? Studies show over and over that parental behavior and communication delay the start of alcohol consumption. Do your kids know that you don’t want them to drink, smoke, or do drugs, or do you assume they know because these things are bad for the number of reasons they are bombarded with through TV, school, and social media?
The most important thing: don’t wait until it is too late. At least one fifth of North Carolina students start drinking alcohol by age 14 and the younger the age of drinking initiation, the greater the risk of alcohol dependence. It is NEVER too early to talk to kids about how to respond in situations and the Child Development Institute, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and Talk it Out NC gives us great tools to start conversations at any age.
As parents, we must teach our kids how to respond to difficult situations and set expectations for them to adhere to. Start by having an open and HONEST conversation with kids. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you smoked in college or drank in high school. But first really think about why you did what you did. Help your kids to learn from your mistakes, don’t be ashamed of them. Be prepared to discuss what negative impacts your choices had on your life. Did you get busted for underage drinking? Did you get winded when you played sports because you were secretly “socially smoking” on the weekends? Think about the consequences. Talk about the outcomes of your decisions.
Help your kids develop a plan for how they will respond when, not if, they are faced with the difficult decision of saying no. The best offensive is a good defense, so work together to develop their defense. I have talked to my son about establishing himself as a designated driver when confronted with alcohol once he is driving. Ensuring his friends have a good time and make it home safely is admirable, and he could be less likely to be pressured to drink if he takes on this role. I have also told him that if he finds himself in a situation where he feels uncomfortable saying no, to choose a can of beer and subtly replace it with water. It sounds silly, but speaking from experience...it works. What’s your plan?