Do Not Be Passive About Suspicions
Suspicions that a child is drinking or abusing alcohol, even on a casual basis, should always be followed by action. Whether a child uses alcohol occasionally or regularly, underage drinking can quickly grow into dependence or addiction. Worse yet, alcohol use can put a child at-risk for health issues and problems with the law. It doesn’t matter if a child is drinking for the first time or if a parent suspects it’s occurred before. Adults should intervene on behalf of a child whom they believe is using alcohol. If alcohol addiction is already a concern, confronting a child in the appropriate manner can lead them to get the help they need to put alcohol abuse behind them.
A Checklist of Underage Drinking Signs
Children’s behavior can change significantly during the adolescent and teen years, even without the presence of alcohol. Although one or two changes doesn’t necessarily indicate alcohol use, a cluster of signs that show up around the same time can point to alcohol use or abuse and underage drinking.
This checklist reveals some of the common signs exhibited by a child who’s using alcohol:
- Sharp change in attitude or mood
- Drop in performance or attendance at school
- Uncharacteristic behavior or discipline problems at school or home
- Loss of interest in favorite hobbies, activities or sports
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Reluctance to introduce new friends to parents
- Disappearance of alcohol in the home
- Odor of alcohol on the breath or clothing
- Exhibits signs of depression
Preparing to Talk to a Child About Alcohol Use
- Create a United Front. It’s essential that parents who want to talk to their child about possible alcohol use do so with a united front. Arguing in front of a child or presenting conflicting messages can compound the problem. Before talking to their child, it’s important that parents sit down together to discuss what they’ll say and how they’ll share their concerns.
- Prepare for Strong Emotions. It’s likely that a child who’s confronted about alcohol use or abuse is going to react with strong emotions. He or she will deny the behavior and may become angry or be reduced to tears. Knowing that a strong emotional reaction is a probability can help parents prepare for it so they don’t get drawn into an emotional tailspin.
- Gather Evidence. Parents may not think that evidence is necessary to speak with a child about alcohol use concerns, and it’s not. But having evidence on hand can help them sidestep denial and proceed directly toward action that supports abstinence. Prior to sitting down with a child, it’s wise for a parent to gather any evidence they may have that alcohol use has occurred, such as empty bottles or clothing that smells of alcohol.
- Rehearse the Approach. Since emotions and arguments can cause the anticipated conversation to go awry, it’s a good idea to rehearse with a partner before talking with the child. Parents can role play with one another to practice what they want to say, as well as how to deal with possible responses from their child.
Confronting a Child About Underage Drinking Effectively and Appropriately
- Put Strong Emotions Aside. When it comes to protecting their child, many parents have strong emotions and concerns regarding well-being. It’s understandable to feel heartbroken or angry about a child’s alcohol use, but demonstrating these emotions during a conversation with the child can be counterproductive. It’s best to talk at a time when both parents can be calm and share their concerns from a point of love, rather than from anger or despair.
- Be Concise and Honest. Teens and adolescents can be notorious for tuning parents out. A discussion on alcohol abuse or the dangers of drinking alcohol is not the best time to be long-winded. Expressing concerns concisely and honestly is the best approach, and productive conversation is more likely to result from a statement such as “we smelled alcohol on your breath last night and your eyes were bloodshot.”
- Give the Child an Opportunity to Speak. In addition to expressing their concerns, parents must also allow their child to have a chance to speak. While the child presents his or her side, parents should actively listen by maintaining eye contact and nodding when appropriate. If the child doesn’t have much to say, asking open-ended questions can elicit further conversation. Throughout the discussion, parents should reiterate that they want to help.
- Commit to Helping the Child Change. Letting a child know that the family will work together to change demonstrates a commitment to do so. Resistance may or may not occur, but a united stand throughout the situation shows the child that he or she is worthy of support, as well as good health and well-being.
Taking Action to Support Sobriety
- Set Boundaries with Consequences. Boundaries are important for children, whether they’re abusing alcohol or not. But when a child starts to use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress or fit in socially, it’s an indication that tighter boundaries with consequences are necessary. Parents should spell out their boundaries, such as a curfew, and with whom and where the child hangs out. Following through on boundaries is equally important.
- Closely Monitor the Child. Closely monitoring the child’s activities and friendships can provide him or her the safety needed to prevent potentially harmful behavior. It’s okay to check up on a child to ensure he’s where he said he’d be and with people who won’t encourage alcohol consumption.
- Be a Positive Role Model. Children often model the behaviors exhibited at home. Even if parents drink responsibly, a child may still believe that means it’s okay for him or her to drink, too. Allow parental behavior and activities in the home to be a positive example.
- Seek Support. Effective support is vital to both the parents and the child who’s using alcohol. Reach out to a counselor or alcohol rehab center for guidance on how to approach a child who’s drinking. This type of support can help the whole family progress toward health and hope.
Forming an Alliance
Whether an adult is a parent, teacher, community leader or mentor, there’s a responsibility to look out for and advocate on behalf of the children under our care. By working together, adults can be on the same page regarding the ways in which they help support a child who’s overcoming addiction or breaking free from a social group that encourages alcohol abuse. Wisdom and knowledge accumulated over the years, allows adults to help children at-risk to find healthier ways to deal with stress and fill time.
Working hand-in-hand with a counselor or alcohol rehabilitation center can make a tremendous difference for both the adult and child who are affected by underage drinking. When the situation is spiraling out of control, and those around the at-risk child feel helpless and confused, a staff or caring, compassionate people at a rehab facility can provide effective treatment techniques to assist the child in overcoming alcohol abuse. A multi-faceted approach can help a family as they endeavor to support their child in building a strong foundation for sober living. No family should have to go through the confusion and pain of alcohol abuse or underage drinking alone.