What’s Inside









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∙ FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY Your Middle Schooler's World



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What Style Of Parent Are You?







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Discussion Checklist


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Promoting a Safer Community





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Final Takeaways






ACKNOWLEDGEMENT Mothers Against Drunk Driving® is grateful to Robert Turrisi, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Pennsylvania State University for their partnership in this handbook. Dr. Turrisi has spent years researching how parents can talk effectively with teens about alcohol. This handbook draws from his work and from scientific knowledge in this field from all over the world.



Introduction When children reach the middle school years and early adolescence, they are entering a period of immense and rapid change. During this exciting period, parents face new challenges and rewards. Some of a child’s changes are physical and easy to see. Other changes, such as how the child thinks, feels, communicates, and interacts with peers, are less noticeable. We created this handbook to help parents talk to children ages 11-14 about alcohol. . During this phase, parents have a single goal: keeping their kids safe and healthy while helping them grow into independent, well-adjusted young adults. From research we know that many kids ages 11-14 or even earlier are being exposed to alcohol. Even if kids this age don’t drink or use marijuana, it’s the time in their lives when they are setting their expectations about

alcohol and marijuana. However, to parents alcohol may seem so common and familiar that they may forget or not consider how risky it is for young people in these early stages of development. However, the fact remains: alcohol is always a dangerous drug when in the hands of underage drinkers. Alcohol is responsible for more young peoples’ serious accidents and deaths than all other illegal drugs combined. Marijuana is increasingly becoming legal in the US and people are either assuming it must be safe or has health benefits. Many of the perceived health benefits have not been adequately tested by medical and health researchers. It is important for parents to be able to have meaningful conversations based on the research with their middle schoolers. These materials are designed to help parents.


PURPOSE OF THIS HANDBOOK By reading this handbook and following its recommendations, you can substantially reduce the chance that your son or daughter will drink before the age of 21 or use marijuana. As you go through the handbook, you may relate to some sections better than others. This is okay because we completely understand and respect that not all families are the same. We strongly encourage you to review the entire handbook. Based on research with thousands of families all over the country, it contains information that will be helpful to you and your family.


A MESSAGE TO PARENTS FROM DR. TURRISI Research shows that kids who drink are a danger to themselves, their friends, and others. For 20 years, hundreds of high quality clinical studies in the United States and Europe have shown that the sooner kids drink, the more severe the problems they face in the short and long term Science shows that a child’s brain works differently from grown up brains. It is important to realize that no matter how mature kids act they are not simply small versions of adults. Kids’ brains are still in a critical period of development well into their 20’s. Alcohol and marijuana interferes with how brains and bodies grow.

As medical health professionals, we have seen countless times how a single night of underage drinking or using marijuana can destroy lives forever. Unfortunately, most kids who have problems with alcohol or marijuana took their first drink or used marijuana when they were very young, sometimes with their parents. As a parent you have power to equip your child to make smarter, safer choices and to help prevent tragedies. We urge you to read this handbook and talk with your middle school-aged child to help shape the choices they make regarding alcohol and marijuana. These conversations will have an impact on their physical and emotional development and could be life-saving.


Talk Soon “My daughter Olivia didn’t wake up one day desiring to be an alcoholic and addict and lose her life at 21. That came about from the friends and choices she made. Olivia took her first drink around age 13. Looking back, there were signs. Her friends changed in middle school; her diaries talk about how badly she wanted to fit in. I once dropped her off at a friend’s house and when I returned, she was so intoxicated with alcohol poisoning that we went straight to the emergency room. Drinking caused Olivia to lose her virginity just before the 8th grade to a high school senior. Then she was so ashamed she drank more and tried to take her own life. Counseling helped for a while, but if she took one drink, she just couldn’t stop. Olivia was a repeat offender, she got arrested, did drugs, wrecked a car, and became involved in an abusive relationship. Despite all the bad things, she still graduated early from high school with wonderful grades. When she wasn’t under the influence, she was sweet and charming and funny. At age 21, Olivia called and asked for help. We got her wait-listed at an in-patient treatment program; she was supposed to call daily to check for an opening. But Olivia stopped calling, thinking she could handle it herself. Three months later, she drove drunk, hit an embankment, and died the next day. Later I learned that the parents one of Olivia’s closest middle school friends allowed kids to drink at home as long as no one was driving. I had no idea, I trusted other parents and put my head in the sand, I never wanted to believe that my daughter had a drinking problem or was less than perfect. Losing Olivia changed our family forever. The simplest things you take for granted become a monumental event, like setting the kitchen table, just holding that extra plate in your hand. I share her story because if one person chooses not to go down that same path, then Olivia’s life and death have purpose. That gives me comfort.” Mother of daughter who died at 21


2 Your Middle Schooler's World

As you are aware, many changes are going on throughout your child’s life. Among the biggest change is the transition from elementary to middle school. Kids age 11 to 14 may face many new situations and challenges: ࡟ Maturing bodies that grow at different rates, leading to social awkwardness. ࡟ The dilemma of who to become friends with and how to fit in. ࡟ More responsibilities and demands at school and around the house. ࡟ Moral dilemmas about risky behaviors and substance use. During this period of rapid change and growth, adults can provide support and understanding that help build a stronger relationship. FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY When kids reach middle school, it is normal for them to seek more freedoms. They want to feel in control and capable of handling any situation—even when they are not. Kids need to learn that all new freedoms come with responsibility. As parents, we can offer age-appropriate choices and guidance to help them develop safely. During this period of rapid physical growth and change, a child’s hands, feet and arms can grow quickly. Many youth feel awkward and “gawky.”

Kids whose bodies mature slowly are often seen as less socially developed and less attractive and popular. Mistakenly, about one in five middle school students believe they are overweight or underweight. These are some obstacles to developing healthy self-esteem.


Positive, shared family activities help protect kids against risky peer influences. For example, kids like looking at pictures of parents and siblings when they were young. Viewing family photos together can strengthen relationships and show how everyone goes through similar changes. These informal conversations also help keep the lines of communication open. By talking with kids often, the transition is easier when you need to discuss more difficult topics.


PHYSICAL CHANGES Parents can reassure their son or daughter that body changes are natural and that within a few years, everyone will grow into their bodies. Kids who are satisfied with their bodies tend to have higher self-esteem. Self-esteem can help kids resist alcohol and other substances. Thinking The middle school child’s brain focuses on what’s happening right now. That’s why middle school kids make decisions based on immediate emotions. They care about “How I feel right now” and social concerns like “My friends will give me a hard time and I will be left out.” At this age, a child can have trouble understanding how actions today can lead to consequences in the future; this part of the brain literally has not yet developed. When It Comes to Alcohol and Marijuana Kids may hear that drinking is risky, but their own experience has greater impact on their choices. They may think, “My parents drink and nothing bad has ever happened.”

Use questions that start with how, what, and why . You might ask “ How would you handle an invitation to a party with alcohol? What would you say? Why do you think drinking is dangerous at your age?” Help them practice thinking through the pros and cons of different alternatives TIP Do not assume that facts or statistics will convince your child to avoid alcohol or marijuana Your role is to help them use information to start developing rational thinking skills. It is important to have clear family rules about what to do if they are at someone’s home, adults are not supervising, and alcohol becomes present. Results from many studies indicate kids drink more often and heavier when alcohol is made available to them. The best practice to the have your son or daughter understand that they are to leave or call a trusted adult for a ride if this happens.


They are beginning to strive for independence. For support, they form close ties with friends of the same age. When faced with new situations, middle school kids often look to friends and older siblings for examples of how to behave. Older siblings, cousins, and friends can be models of positive behavior. However, if your child starts doing everything a friend says, for example, this may be problematic, particularly if that individual is engaging in negative behavior. Middle school students need close friends. They also need to be able to express their own beliefs and preferences to these friends. This type of self-expression goes hand-in- hand with strong self-esteem, which also boosts problem solving and social adjustment. Understanding self-esteem Which of these factors contributes to developing self-esteem? ࡟ Unconditional love ࡟ Success at tasks such as athletics, music lessons, or dancing

IDENTITY AND SELF ESTEEM During the middle school years, kids feel pressure to fit in and establish an identity that’s “free” of their parents. about the consequences of alcohol use, even if he or she shows little interest. The part of the brain that controls what are considered to be “executive functions” (for example being less emotional and more reasoned, using judgment, planning, and critical thinking) is right at a critical stage of development that is not quite finished until the early 20s. The Bottom Line Adults may hold beliefs and have thoughts that simply do not exist for younger individu- als. Help your middle schooler develop bet - ter critical thinking skills by talking together


4. Enforce rules in private. If possible, do not punish your child in public, especially in front of his or her friends. This leads to humiliation and lowers self-esteem. Wait until a private moment to discuss an issue such as forgotten homework or chores. 5. Praise effort. Let your son or daughter know that they don’t always have to “win” or be perfect. Don’t deny that winning feels good, but take pride in the process of activity

࡟ Being popular and “fitting in” ࡟ Being able to cope with negative feedback and to overcome adversity and problems When handled properly, negative and positive experiences both can help build self-esteem. All these factors play a role in developing self-esteem, but the last may be most important. By teaching kids how to cope with stressful events and solve problems, we help them develop valuable, lifelong skills that boost self- esteem. 8 Tips: It’s important for your child to gain your approval, so try to praise more than criticize. 1. Praise often. Praise behavior you want to encourage. Catch your child doing things right. For example: “Nice job! You earned an ‘A’ on your homework!” 2. Give choices. Where possible, allow your child to make decisions for himself or herself, especially for small choices like choosing between games or clothing. Try to let your

rather than the outcome. 6. Set realistic goals.

When too much is expected of a child, failure and low self-esteem follow. Be realistic about your own expectations and help your child to be realistic. 7. Don’t compare. There will always be others who do better or worse than your child. Teach your child to value his or her individuality. Talk about what is special and unique about them. Highlight and encourage the activities in which they are successful and enjoy participating. 8. Take concerns seriously. Sometimes a child may tell you about something that upsets him or her. You may not understand the importance of the concern, but you can support self- esteem by respecting and listening to their concerns.

child be his or her own person. 3. Provide responsibilities.

Kids who have regular duties around the house know they are helping out. They learn to see themselves as a useful and important part of the family unit. Chores such as washing the dishes, folding laundry, feeding a pet, or taking out the trash help your child to understand responsibilities and have an active role in the family.


Instead of saying "it's just a game." when your son or daughter gets upset about losing a game, you can say " I know you are disappointed. I am proud of how hard you tried." Going Along With a Group Kids include others in their moral reasoning. If their peers do something, it makes the behavior seem more okay.Your son or daughter may justify decisions by saying, “but everyone is doing it. ”Youth often believe they should be excused for misbehavior if it was unplanned or if they are one of many. They may say, “We did not mean to drink; things just happened; kids make mistakes.” This is where you as a parent can play a big role, by communicating with them about what the family rules are and working with them to form plans if these situations arise.

Also, as a parent, you can share facts and provide alternate information to things that your child perceives are prevalent. For example, not everyone drinks alcohol and you can share that with your child to inform and educate them of this fact.

Risky Business Because adolescents’ brains are still developing, adolescents take more risks with alcohol. They act impulsively and don’t recognize that their actions, such as drinking, have consequences. Alcohol is especially attractive to young people because it reduces their social anxiety more than it does for adults.


Remember to use questions that start with how, what, and why. You might ask “ How would you handle a situation where your friends want to drink alcohol? What would you say to them? Why do you think drinking is dangerous for them and you at your age? What could you do differently?” Parents can help kids practice thinking through the pros and cons of different alternatives.



What Style Of Parent Are You?

Parents rely on certain strategies for raising their middle school children. Do any of the parenting styles below seem familiar to you?

Research shows that kids who feel threatened by their parents may behave well when the threatening parent is nearby, but act out when the threatening parent is gone. These kids have difficulty behaving properly without external control. They are less likely to develop internalized values that equip them to make wise decisions. By focusing on obedience, authoritarian parents lose their ability to influence their son or daughter through reasoned discussion or to help them develop good thinking skills. If parents impose very strict rules, kids often defy them. Then parents give more punishments and kids rebel more. It can become a vicious cycle. Angry kids may finally say: “I don’t care how you punish me. You can’t control me. Take away whatever you want. Lock me up. Kick me out. It doesn’t matter because I will still do what I want.” At this point, authoritarian parents lose much of their influence. Research shows: Compared with all young people who drink illegally, children of authoritarian style parents tend to consume the most dangerously high levels of alcohol.

AUTHORITARIAN Authoritarian parents tend to use parental power for control: ࡟ Children must do what they are told or else face serious consequences. ࡟ Parents are unconcerned if kids understand the reasons behind rules. Parents don’t tolerate being asked for explanations. ࡟ Parents use threats and punishment to keep their kids in line. Two Parents Two Styles? Sometimes parents have different styles. For example, one parent might be authoritarian while the other is overprotective. This can create even more confusion for the child as he or she attempts to meet the expectations of both parents.


OVERPROTECTIVE Overprotective parents shield their kids from the harsh realities of life. Like authoritarian parents, they exert a lot of control, but their method is different. Instead of using rules and threats, overprotective parents present themselves as allies. They see the world as a threat and express their fearfulness. Then they rescue their son or daughter from dealing with any harsh reality. Q - Do different parenting styles work better for different kids? A - Research shows that positive parenting is the only parenting style that’s consistently linked with kids who make better decisions For example, instead of helping their child understand difficult homework assignments, overprotective parents might actually do the work for them. This leaves the child poorly prepared for the realities of adult life. Having no experience in handling challenging situations, these kids may panic in stressful situations. PERMISSIVE RULE SETTING Parents who have permissive rule setting use a hands-off approach. They: ࡟ Do not set expectations. Instead, they believe their son or daughter should be independent.

࡟ Permit kids to explore the world without “interfering.” ࡟ Feel kids should be free to make mistakes and learn from them accordingly. Permissive rule setting parents may not face as much rebellion as authoritarian or overprotective parents do. However, overly permissive rule setting parents deprive their child of wise guidance in developing effective problem-solving skills. A child of permissive rule setting parents can come to feel neglected and believe that their parents have little interest in what they do. This, in turn, can lead to resentment. Research shows: when they drink illegally, kids of permissive rule setting style parents tend to have significantly higher than average blood alcohol levels compared to other underage drinkers.

Parents do make a difference Despite how you may feel sometimes, research shows that parents are the number one influence on whether or not a child chooses to drink alcohol.


POSITIVE Positive parents focus on empowering their middle school child to grow and learn. They: ࡟ Take an active role in teaching responsibility. ࡟ Set clear expectations about behavior, such as waiting until age 21 before drinking alcohol. ࡟ Explain reasons behind their expectations and encourage their son or daughter to talk about any concerns. ࡟ Set and enforce consequences before agreements are not met. Positive parents know that their own age, knowledge, experience, and material resources give them more power than their child. Positive parents use that power to strengthen and protect their child and help them grow into effective individuals. Positive parenting can be difficult, because parents gradually give up control and allow kids more freedom and responsibility with each passing year. These parents respect a child’s drive for independence, yet maintain legitimate limits. They build trust and teach skills that empower kids to take increasing control of their lives. Instead of enforcing severe punishment for bad behavior only after the fact, positive parents discuss and set clear consequences for breaking rules before any instances, then enforce them if need be. They encourage their son and daughter to talk about problems and to build problem- solving skills.

Positive parenting is generally the most effective parenting style. Research shows: when a child of positive style parents does drink illegally, they tend to consume significantly less alcohol than a child of other parenting styles. Parents Do Make a Difference Despite how you may feel sometimes, research shows that parents are an important influence on whether or not their son or daughter chooses to drink alcohol. Kids do care about their parents’ opinions. They tend to respond well to a positive parenting style. In contrast, many studies show that authoritarian, overprotective, and permissive parenting can lead to negative outcomes. The strategies recommended in this handbook are compatible with the positive parenting style.

For more information on how parenting styles can influence teen or kids drinking, visit MADD at powerofparents.

The Bottom Line Positive parenting strategies can help empower a middle school student to avoid underage drinking.



As a parent, you can play a critical role in preventing your child from using alcohol. The key is having high- quality conversations. Keep in mind, research shows that parents who read these materials first and then have conversations with their child are far more effective. Talking About Alcohol

Know The Facts Alcohol is the most misused drug in our society. Many adults do not even consider alcohol to be a drug. What adds to the confusion is that other countries have different laws that allow drinking at an earlier age than in the United States. The data from numerous and well conducted studies indicate that, because of our laws, American children get drunk far less often and have lower lifetime risks of alcohol problems compared to most other countries in the world. Still, even with good laws, some kids start drinking alcohol as early as 6th or 7th grade. Even those that do not set their future expectations for alcohol at this young age. Young people who drink have a much greater risk of getting injured or dying. Research shows that the earlier that they begin; the more likely they are to have life-long alcohol problems.


STARTING THE CONVERSATION Communication is most effective when all participants have a feeling of connection and collaboration. The best way to achieve this is by asking for permission. For example, you might say, “There is something that I have been hearing about lately in the news and I was hoping we could talk about it for a few minutes. Is that okay?” When the time is right to start talking together, use “how,” “what,” and “why” questions to help your son or daughter work through different scenarios that could involve alcohol. These are different than yes-or-no questions like “do you know anyone who drinks?” Questions that start with “how,” “what,” and “why” can encourage an exchange of ideas. They help middle school children practice rational thinking about pros and cons of different alternatives. Open-ended questions allow kids to develop thinking skills that help them resist in-the- moment emotions

How Alcohol Effects Us

Kids who drink alcohol before age 21 are more likely to: As higher levels of alcohol reach the brain, physical processes slow down, including breathing and heart rate. Too much alcohol makes breathing and heart rate drop to dangerously low levels—or even stop. Alcohol is a drug that depresses the entire body. From the first drink, alcohol begins to impair judgment, coordination, and reaction time.

࡟ Face problems in school ࡟ Get assaulted ࡟ Abuse alcohol later in life ࡟ Drown or fall ࡟ Die in a car crash


Here are some strong ways to start a dialogue around alcohol: ࡟ I heard on the news that one out of four 8th graders have tried alcohol. I was wondering… ࡟ If you were to guess, how many kids your age do you think have had a drink with alcohol in it? ࡟ How do you think it has helped them? Hurt them? ࡟ What are the reasons those kids might have had for drinking? ࡟ What are some of the things they could have done instead? ࡟ Why do you think they did that? ࡟ Why do you think they did not drink? Negative reactions from a parent can shut down communication and make it difficult to help a child solve problems and deal with difficult situations. Negative parental reactions include: ࡟ Letting off steam in an angry outburst ࡟ Giving the silent treatment and then saying “things are fine” ࡟ Bringing up the child’s past failures ࡟ Recruiting other people to support your side of the argument ࡟ Comparing kids and asking, “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?”

You can also personalize the questions: ࡟ If you were in their situation, how might you act? ࡟ How do you think it would affect you? ࡟ What are some of the things you could have done instead? ࡟ Why is that?


Here are several topics that we recommend you discuss with your child: TIP





'How' do you think drinking helps or hurts the body?

'What' physical activities do you want to do in the future that drinking could hurt?

'Why' do you think some young people drink if they can get hurt?

The effect of drinking on the body / physically How drinking affects decisions/ choices

'How' do you think drinking affects choices young people make?

'What' problems can happen when young people choose to drink?

'Why' do you think some young people drink if it can have a negative impact on their choices?

'How' does drinking before the age of 21 affect someone?

'What' answers could kids give if they are pushed to drink before 21?

'Why' do you think some people would start drinking before 21?

Drinking before 21

Remember: Try to keep your cool and not get angry if you hear things that you do not like.



Parents sometimes hesitate to impose rules against underage drinking or even to discuss drinking with their kids. Maybe they are embarrassed or assume their son or daughter is not at risk.

Are You Making That Assumption?

Read The Real Facts:

According to data from a Monitoring the Future national survey, about 27% of kids try alcohol before graduating from 8th grade.

It’s too early. My son or daughter is not interested in drinking

About 9% of 8th graders have drunk alcohol in the past 30 days.

My child’s friends are good kids who do not drink alcohol My son or daughter has learned about the negative effects of alcohol in school

Although most kids do learn about alcohol in their health classes, research shows that many important issues never get covered. School programs alone are not enough to stop youth from drinking.

Unfortunately, the reality is that many young people are uninformed about how powerful a drug alcohol can be.

At this point, my son or daughter should know better

Research shows that involvement in sports shifts from being protective when children are very young to a high risk factor as they get older. Do not assume that because your kids participate in sports or other organized activities that they will not be exposed to pressures to drink alcohol.

We have our kids involved in sports. This keeps them off the streets.


When may be the best time to talk with your child about alcohol? Kids are often tired after a school day or athletic event, and that may not be the best time to start a conversation. Think about your child’s schedule and how you can create a time where you will have his or her undivided attention. Perhaps take him or her out to a quiet dinner or someplace where you can comfortably start a “one- on-one” conversation. GETTING YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER TO TALK Parents can be frustrated by their inability to get their middle school child to talk at length on any issue. They swear that their son or daughter has a vocabulary of “Okay, Mom,” “I dunno,” “Whatever,” “If you want,” and “Not now” when it comes to parental conversation. “Eye rolls” from the child may also punctuate these statements. Kids may respond this way when they are busy, tired, or simply not in the mood for talking. Perhaps they fear getting another lecture or that the parent will start nagging again. Kids may feel the parent just doesn’t understand them. Parents need to respect how their child may feel and not force communication at a bad time. Let the matter drop and bring it up later. Try to pick a time when your child will be open to talking.

Talk every day about things that matter to your son or daughter. Ask questions and seek understanding. This makes conversation flow more easily when it’s time to discuss “heavier” topics, such as alcohol. Seek discussion; don’t lecture! Share your own experiences and opinions and how they have changed over the years. As you are willing to open-up and share experiences, so will your son or daughter. Keep distinctions between facts and opinions. Say things like, “My opinion is ... This opinion is based on these facts and observations.” Ask your son or daughter what he or she thinks. Listen and try to understand without being defensive. Suspend your critical judgment while you listen attentively. This is probably the single most important aspect of good communication. People like to talk about themselves and their opinions. People like to explore logic and details. They do not like to be told what to think! Keep comments short. Remember, you don’t have to say everything that comes to mind. Kids tend to tune out when parents make big, sweeping comments like “kids getting drunk is terrible.” Well-chosen silence can actually encourage your child to talk more and engage more in the conversation.


Middle School Students Make Assumptions,Too Kids who drink say: ࡟ They don’t believe drinking makes you sick or has bad effects. ࡟ They are bored and there is nothing else to do but drink. ࡟ They expect drinking to have benefits, such as improved socializing. ࡟ “It can’t be that bad if everyone is doing it,” and “my friends won’t think I’m cool if I don’t drink.”

Unfortunately, over the past two weeks: ࡟ 11% of 8th graders have consumed alcohol to the point of being drunk ࡟ 4% of 8th graders have engaged in binge drinking

Kids who chug alcohol and drink as much as they can— as fast as they can—risk dying from alcohol poisoning. Consider these quotes: “A girl I know got so drunk that she dropped her cellphone down the toilet. She told her parents it was stolen.” “He took a bunch of beers out of his dad’s refrigerator and started showing off how much he could drink. After 6 beers, he passed out.” These accounts sound shocking, but your son, daughter, or someone they know may have experienced something like this.

Talk with your child to correct his or her mistaken assumptions about alcohol. Reinforce the proven fact that the majority of kids are NOT drinking.

Young People Drink Differently Middle school students may not consciously plan to drink, but they may take an opportunity to experiment. For example, they may be hanging out with friends at a home with an unlocked liquor cabinet, and decide to open up a bottle because there are no parents around. Young people tend to engage in intense drinking, called “binge” drinking. For boys, binge drinking means having at least 5 drinks within a 2-hour period. For girls, it means at least 4 drinks within that time.


The earlier kids start drinking, the more likely they are to eventually become dependent on alcohol and to drive drunk. According to recent data: ࡟ 1 in 37 students in the 8th grade got drunk, in the past month ࡟ 1 in 5 8th graders binge drank in the past two weeks Binge Drinking is Bad News Binge drinkers are more likely to be: ࡟ pushed, hit or attacked ࡟ confronted with unwanted sexual advances ࡟ sexually assaulted ࡟ seriously injured Binge drinkers are also more likely to drive drunk, ride with a drunk driver, have their property damaged, have unprotected sex, and get exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV. Even if your child says what you hope to hear (“I don’t drink”), it’s still important to talk together about alcohol. TIP

Ask questions, listen without defensiveness, and expand your child’s thinking. Discuss how he or she might handle or avoid risky situations that could come up. Your child may not admit to drinking yet, but you can still set no-alcohol rules and monitor their friends and activities. Talk together about alcohol to help prevent your child from drinking. Knowing the Facts as You Communicate Your Family’s Values Families take different approaches to alcohol use. Some parents permit their child to drink a controlled amount of alcohol under supervision on holidays or at family functions. Other parents don’t permit any alcohol at all before a child reaches the age of 21. We have met parents who teach basic family values, like honesty and responsibility, but never discuss alcohol directly with their kids. They assume that their son or daughter will know how to apply family values to alcohol. That’s a risky assumption. Pre-adolescents and adolescents’ brains are still developing and as a result they do not always make connections that are obvious to adults. You will empower your child to meet the challenges of growing up if you clearly discuss your expectations about alcohol, keep communication lines open, and set clear rules and consequences while monitoring their friends and activities.


We have met parents who teach basic family values, like honesty and responsibility, but never discuss alcohol directly with their kids. As you decide what to do in your own home, consider research findings from the United States and Europe: ࡟ Kids who believe their parents approve of them drinking alcohol are more likely to drink outside the home. ࡟ Kids who are given alcohol at home are more likely to drink alcohol when they are away from their parents. They also get drunk more often at early ages. ࡟ There is no research showing that drinking alcohol at an early age teaches kids about alcohol or protects them from getting drunk later on. ࡟ If providing alcohol to kids was in some way beneficial, then doctors, teachers, and health experts would recommend it, but they don’t. Discuss your position on alcohol with your son or daughter. Talk about: ࡟ How drinking affects the body both physically and psychologically ࡟ How drinking only one time can have harmful effects ࡟ Reasons why some kids drink and others do not drink ࡟ Constructive ways of having fun that do not involve drinking

࡟ Why you are concerned about drinking before 21 ࡟ The consequences for violating your rules about not drinking before 21 and why your family has these rules GET INFORMED! Visit for more resources and information. Middle school children are young and still learning about behaving responsibly. You can help your child find many other ways to practice responsible behavior besides drinking alcohol. As a parent, don’t feel the pressure to give in and let your child drink before the age of 21. Also keep in mind: there can be legal ramifications to serving alcohol to your own child or other people’s children. In some states, parents may be able serve their own children alcohol, though this is not recommended. Adults, however, are never permitted to serve alcohol to other people’s children. What’s more, it is illegal for young people under 21 to purchase or possess alcohol.


Enforcing Consequences As a parent, be ready to follow through and enforce consequences if your child violates a family agreement. Do ࡟ Impose a consequence if your teen violates an agreement. ࡟ Impose consequences consistently. ࡟ Be very clear about no underage drinking. Don't ࡟ Base your actions on anger. ࡟ Impose a consequence arbitrarily, in the heat of the moment.

The next day, the parent might say, “You violated a very important family rule. Drinking is very dangerous at your age. Therefore, as we agreed before, there will be serious consequences. For the next month, you will not be allowed to play with friends after school or use your cell phone when you are at home. During the next 30 days you can work on building the trust we have lost by making better choices. Emphasize to your child how quickly drinking can lead to dangerous results. That’s why you take underage drinking so seriously.

Here are examples:

A child comes home and has clearly been drinking. The parent is angry and says, “You’re grounded indefinitely. When you’re not in school, you will be at home.” This consequence is set arbitrarily during an angry moment and may not even be possible to enforce. Another parent might respond by saying, “I’m very disappointed with the choices you made. We will talk about this in the morning.”


At times, you may have to ask for an agreement based on respect for your authority. In those cases, emphasize that your purpose is to protect and your intent is to eventually give freedom. Agreements are most likely to be honored when they are made in the context of high-quality relationships. High quality relationships are built on mutual trust, where both participants are confident that the other will be honest, responsible, and caring. High quality relationships are characterized by: ࡟ Respect for one another ࡟ Empathy and understanding ࡟ Knowledge of each other ࡟ Mutual trust ࡟ Concern for one another

Does The Penalty Fit? It’s best for consequences to match the “crime.” Small violations of family rules deserve mild punishment; serious violations deserve tougher penalties. For example, you could consider curbing privileges, like limiting phone rights or computer access. Evaluate the situation, and as a parent, set an appropriate consequence. Keep in mind that kids are different, so a restriction that worked for one child may not be appropriate for another. We suggest you speak in advance with your child to agree on penalties before a rule is actually broken. Then everyone understands the family rules and consequences.

MADD Urges You To Make The Following Agreements With Your Pre-Teen: ࡟ No drinking alcohol before age 21 ࡟ No socializing in places where kids are drinking ࡟ No riding in a car with a driver who has had any amount of alcohol

High Quality Agreements A good agreement is clear and understood by all. However, parents and kids often make agreements only to have the child break them. Instead of being a true agreement, the agreement really imposes what the parent wants.



Here is an example of how you might handle this question:

“I did have a drink when I was younger. However, we did not know as much as we know now about the risks of alcohol. If I had known then, I would have done things differently. This is why I am talking to you about it. I want you to be safe, healthy, and happy.”

Your son or daughter will probably ask if you ever drank when you were young. This may create a dilemma for parents. If you drank and say “no,” you are being dishonest. If you say “yes,” your child will think you are hypocritical to expect different behavior from them. Honesty is important and you should not lie to your child. Parents use different approaches to answer this question: Making the topic off limits. Some parents establish a “ground rule” at the start of their discussion: they will talk about everything else, but will not answer questions about their own use of drugs or alcohol when they were young. The parent believes that their own behavior as a youth is not relevant to the child’s current use of alcohol. This strategy works in some families, but not in others. Kids usually become convinced that their parents are hiding something and resent that their parents won’t talk about it. Admitting mistakes and emphasizing negative outcomes. Other parents admit they drank, but focus on how it was a mistake. They use their own experience to discuss negative outcomes, such as how drinking led to an embarrassing moment or dangerous situation. They stress that because the parent behaved foolishly and was lucky enough to escape serious consequences does not mean that the child will have the same outcome


The following strategies will help you communicate most effectively: Listen . Allow your child to speak without interruption. Listen to what he or she says. Sometimes it is good to paraphrase. “Let me see if I understand you. It sounds like you feel that…” With paraphrasing, you don’t agree or disagree, you interpret. Speak with respect and appreciation. Your child still values your approval. Whenever you can, express your respect and admiration (for example, “I admire what you have done and how you are coping”). Everyone wants to be respected and is more willing to talk to people who respect them. Tell your son or daughter you are proud of them for being able to handle tough situations


when one of you is absorbed in another activity, such as reading the newspaper, watching television, or texting. Emphasize common goals. Remind your child that you are on their side. Emphasize common goals, and use the shared goals as a basis for your guidance and suggestions. (For example, remind your child that you both want him or her to stay healthy and safe.) Avoid communication “stoppers.” These are single statements that shut down any response. They are often threatening, such as “I better

not catch you drinking or else.” Recognize conflict is natural.

We are not identical to one another. We all have different beliefs and values; therefore disagreement is a natural thing. We can use conflict as an opportunity to grow and learn about each other. Agree to step away. Agree to temporarily stop talking if things don’t go well. Wait until both individuals can talk in a calm, direct fashion. Use appropriate body language. How you position yourself physically while you talk can send important messages about your attitudes or express something you are not trying to convey. Don’t look away or slouch down. Nod your head in agreement. Avoid debate. Sometimes a child feels he or she must “defend” a position. Then the conversation turns into a mini-debate. If you find yourself debating, try suggesting that you

Choose a good time. Choose the best time to bring up and discuss problems. Don’t do it when the other person is rushed or has a commitment elsewhere. Wait until you both can have a relaxed, calm discussion. You might take your child to lunch or out for some ice cream where you could both sit down to talk and listen to one another. Most kids say their parents are the leading influence on their decisions about drinking. Communicate directly. Pick a time to speak when you can have each other’s undivided attention. Don’t discuss important things


Anger about not being trusted. Some kids interpret a request to talk as a sign that you do not trust them or think they are too young to know better. Reassure your son or daughter that you are not suspicious and are doing this to help them, not attack them. Studies show that kids who feel they can trust their parents, and are trusted by them, are less likely to drink.

both approach matters from a different angle. Also, avoid statements that begin with “you” (“You did this…”). They make the other person feel attacked.

AVOIDING POTHOLES Sometimes kids react badly when parents try to discuss sensitive topics. Here are ways to address their concerns. Adapt them to your child’s personality as appropriate. Fear of getting a lecture. Your child may be open to talking, but the last thing they want is a one-way lecture. Studies show that kids who come from homes where parents are perceived to lecture too much actually drink more.

Emphasize These Themes: ࡟ CARING about your child ࡟ Wanting to UNDERSTAND your child ࡟ Wanting to HELP your child ࡟ RESPECTING your child’s privacy and desire to be independent

Keep It Constructive Do your best to keep communication channels open. Most of all, be constructive in your responses, not defensive or angry.

Fear of punishment. Your son or daughter may fear you’ll treat them harshly right from the start. Kids who fear punishment communicate less often with their parents. Studies show these kids tend to initiate drinking, drink more often, and are more likely to experience alcohol-related consequences.

Child: “I know what you will do if we talk. You’ll lecture me like you always do. Then if I say something you will interrupt me.” Parent: “You’re right. This time I won’t lecture. I will listen to what you think.”

To reduce fear, the parent could say:

“I promise that I will listen to you and I’ll take what you say seriously. I’ll be straight with you and you be straight with me.”


He/she thinks they already know it all. Some kids don’t want to talk because they believe they already know everything there is to know about a topic. Your child may think they know everything, but they often do not. Don’t let this objection stop you from trying to communicate. In this situation, the parent might say: “You probably already know quite a bit. But I will feel better if we talk. Besides, you can help me understand how things are different from when I was your age.” Studies show that when children feel they can trust their parents and are trusted by them, they are less likely to drink.

Empower choices. Allowing a child to make choices, even relatively minor ones such as picking a place for the family dinner or choosing a movie to go see, is empowering for them. Sometimes the parent can frame the choices in ways that the child is choosing between two desirable alternatives. Phase in freedoms and challenges. Gradually reduce parental control so kids have more freedom and responsibility with each passing year—yet maintain limits against underage drinking. 5 REASONS THAT MIDDLE SCHOOL CHILDREN RESPECT When you speak with your son or daughter about avoiding alcohol, emphasize the following reasons: Reason 1: Underage drinking is illegal. Most kids know it is illegal to drink under the age of 21. Still, they may assume they won’t get caught. Remind them that police do receive complaints about parties. When police arrive, they may arrest all who have been drinking underage. State clearly that you expect your child to obey the law. Discuss the potential consequences for breaking the law such as losing one’s cell phone, computer privileges, etc The child, you, and your family could be publicly embarrassed, since these arrests are routinely reported in newspapers. If a court date is scheduled, you may


Middle school children are less likely to drink alcohol when their parents:

Respect their concerns, even when maintaining limits.

Kids want increasing control, for example by choosing what to wear or activities to participate in after school. Even while setting clear rules against alcohol use and monitoring where middle school children are, parents can respect their concerns and keep communication channels open. Give calm guidance. Offer clear-headed discussion and guidance about choices important to their life path.


have to take time off from work and could lose pay, face fines, and incur other costs. Kids rarely consider all the legal or financial consequences. Discussing the implications of an arrest can help deter underage drinking. Reason 2: Drinking can make you sick, pass out, or die. Drinking too much alcohol can make people vomit. This is actually a sign of alcohol that can have fatal effects if not treated immediately. Remind your child that alcohol sickness can happen suddenly and with little warning. Reason 3: Drinking can lead to assault. Kids who are drinking are more vulnerable to dangerous situations and often can’t escape the threat of rape or assault. Your child probably trusts the people around him or her, and you may trust them too, but alcohol can turn situations dangerous. Sixty-five percent of sexual assault victims say they knew their attacker. Research clearly shows that the younger a person starts drinking, the greater the chance they will develop alcohol problems later in life. Reason 4: Drinking can lead to an early death Heavy drinking can damage the liver, kidneys, brain, and heart, all with serious long-term consequences.

CAUTION: Terrifying your teen could backfire

However, even one night of heavy drinking can have life- changing results, including unprotected sex (which may lead to pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease, such as HIV), death from alcohol poisoning or choking on vomit, or fatal car crashes. Reason 5: Drinking might lead to being an alcoholic. Most kids have negative images of alcoholics, and most do not want to become alcoholics. Yet they believe they can control their drinking and will not become alcoholics. Be truthful with your child about risks, but avoid overly harsh scare tactics. Too much scary information can make people “turn off” and not pay as much attention. Plus, if you paint a horrific picture of the consequences and your child doesn’t see them happen immediately when someone they know drinks, they will assume you were wrong or exaggerating. Be realistic with the risks you discuss with your pre-teen.


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