Difficult Conversations: How to talk with tweens about making responsible choices

A few months ago, Big had his first current events assignment of his sixth grade school year. While he searched CNN and CNN Student News for  an interesting topic to read, summarize and analyze, I looked forward to a discussion about war, elections, or baseball. His article of choice took me by complete surprise. He found an article about the availability of common use materials being used by students to get high. Twelve years old, and he was profoundly interested in the topic because, he explained, the article went on to discuss how accessible dangerous drugs are for kids.

how to talk to kids about alcohol

“Are you sure Mr. E wants you to bring articles about drugs to school?” I asked.

“It’s a current event, Mom. I found it on CNN Student News. It’s relevant to us because it’s dangerous to take drugs. It’s worth discussing with my class because everyone needs to know.” He was persistent. Persuasive, even. Middle School is a whole new world for parents and, as it turned out, he was educating me, too.

As little as I want to discuss drugs, alcohol and mature situations with my kids, we’ve hit that stage. Every parent wants their child to stay little and innocent forever; every parent knows it’s not an option. It’s better to talk about life choices and make them an active part of our conversations now, so that when the time comes that our kids need to make actual decisions, the conversation will be a natural continuation. A comfortable conversation we’ve already started.

Alcohol

In our home, we keep our alcohol in a place out of reach of our kids, but wine and beer are always available in the refrigerator. We order beer, wine or spirits when we’re at restaurants. We often pour a glass during or after dinner.

I know that my kids view my alcohol choices as a regular choice for me. I also know they recognize that alcohol is an adult drink — simply because we’ve always called it that. So far, it hasn’t been questioned.

Inviting the conversation

Some conversations are more difficult to begin, this is one of them. I’ve tried to ensure that my relationship with my children is inspired by a safe and predictable environment, making it safe for the kids to take risks, and even safer to discuss questions and concerns. Still, breaking into a difficult conversation with a tween is never easy.

I’m taken back to a favorite show, The Brady Bunch. Mike would call the kids into the den, announcing it was time for a “family meeting.” I suppose that was a great format for the 70s, but in our home, it’s not always so formal. There are times when we’ll have difficult conversations in the car, on walks, or at the dinner table. We need to be ready for those conversations whenever they occur.

We also have to train ourselves to approach the conversation with our kids. The way we approach that depends on the nature of our family and our family relationships.

Our relationships

I read an interesting parenting article on Today.com this morning. The author, Michelle Icard, reminded moms that “Beginning in middle school, kids must start the crucial developmental process of building their own identity apart from their parents.” That’s why approaching the conversation of making important life choices is so intimidating to me. I want to steer my kids in the right direction, but I know too much steering can damage our relationship, and the kids’ personal growth. I try to keep our discussions two-sided, listening to their points as much as I expect them to listen to my own. I want my children to learn to listen to the opinions and ideas around them, but to value their own above others.

Michelle’s new book, Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years, is available on Amazon

Most important, I want my kids to feel comfortable coming to my husband and me, and the other adults in their lives (teachers, coaches, family and close friends) when they need us. When they need honest conversation and opinions, and when they want to test their opinions, I want them to know that we’re all accessible for them.

ask listen learn offers free resources for teachers and parents to introduce difficult social discussions. Learn more at Julieverse.com

It’s important that we’re as prepared as possible to know how we’ll address these conversations, and I’m pleased there’s a resource like this post sponsor Ask. Listen. Learn. that shares conversation topics, ideas and skills, to help parents and children talk about choices like alcohol. On their webpage, parents, teachers and students can find cues for discussions and facts to prepare to address alcohol choices with their kids. They’ve also partnered with teen and tween high-interest celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal and Bella Thorne to gain positive outside influence for kids.

As a parent, I look to Ask. Listen. Learn, for tips on how to start conversations when I’m just not sure how to approach them. I also look to their Why It’s Important page to share statistics and facts with families in my peer group, hoping to keep us closer to the same answers so that we can have similar conversations in our homes.

Ask. Listen. Learn.’s conversation starters is a cheat-sheet-like resource to review on your own, or with your spouse, to offer prompts and pointers for alcohol related questions. For example, when a child asks “Grown-ups drink alcohol, so why can’t I?” You won’t need to stress over the right answer. If you’ve read the conversation page, you’ll already be prepared with a suggested response:

First, it’s against the law. And there’s a reason for that. Alcohol can be misused, and people must be old enough to take responsibility for drinking. Statistics show that adolescents who drink are highly prone to accidents and dangerous situations. Plus, you’re young and your body and brain are still growing. Also, privileges come with age. Parents not only get to drink, they get to go to bed later, drive cars, and vote. They also have increased responsibilities: They must work, pay taxes, and provide for their families.

Why start talking today?

Overwhelmingly, parents agree that families are a leading influencer in our children’s lives. In fact, a  Toluna study in March 2013  found that 71% of those polled identify my family as having the highest level of responsibility to address underage drinking. Peer pressure is big in every day life for kids, and having open conversations on a regular basis will make it easier for families to address concerns. Sadly, we never know when a difficult conversation will occur for your children. Some may already have had to make some difficult choices. Starting to talk about alcohol, drugs and peer pressure at tween and teen ages will create a comfortable conversation in your home, and will lead to less confusion and uncertainty in your child’s decision making process.

Take some time and check out the resources available at Ask. Listen. Learn. today. You’ll find valuable information for you and engaging materials your child, as well as resources for your child’s school.

This post has been sponsored by The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibly, the partner of Ask. Listen. Learn. As always, my opinions and stories are my own. 

mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel (jewelryverse.com) and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2016, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.

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