Sometimes we forget that while our kids might spend a lot of time talking about music stars, superheroes, and YouTube personalities, we, their parents, are the people they see on a day-to-day basis. Our example is the only one they see every single day. And whether they admit or not, whether we realize it or not, they are watching us. When our children are young, they learn by watching us. They learn how to do chores, how to interact with others, and even how to handle stress. If you curse when things get hard, your kids will be likely to curse when they get hurt or things don’t go their way. If you drink alcohol when you’ve had a bad day, then that is the coping mechanism your kids see, and it could lead to them doing the same.

Let’s Be Clear

We are not saying that we can never have an alcoholic drink in front of our kids–that’s a family decision we each need to make. But there are things we should be conscious of, things that we can say or do, that can influence their perception of alcohol.

  1. Be conscious of how often we consume alcohol in front of our kids. The more they see us drink, the more “normal” they will perceive it to be, and the more likely they are to drink underage.
  2. Be aware of how much alcohol we are drinking in front of them. Do they see us just enjoying an occasional cold beer on a hot summer day, or do they see us drinking an entire six-pack during the first quarter of the football game every week? Do they see us getting tipsy or outright intoxicated? The more often they see us consume large amounts, the more likely they are to binge drink themselves.
    Sometimes we don’t even realize our children are paying attention to what we are doing.
  3. Be clear about why we drink, with ourselves and our kids. It’s pretty common to say, “I need a drink,” with the implication being that we’ve had such a rough day, it’s the only way we can cope with it. The expression might be a joke among colleagues, but in front of our kids, it becomes an influence. It teaches them that alcohol is a good coping mechanism; unfortunately, that mindset can lead to an alcohol use disorder. Let’s remember there is a difference between need and want, and there are much healthier coping mechanisms to help us deal with stress.
  4. Let them see us choose not to drink and talk about the reasons with them. Maybe we just feel like it would be a healthier choice to skip drinking that day. Perhaps we have an important meeting the next morning. Maybe we’re already dehydrated, and we know it will give us a headache to consume alcohol at this time. Whatever the reason, it is good for our children to see us pass on the opportunity to drink alcohol.

The Most Important Things We Can Do

Underage alcohol consumption can harm the developing brain. Though the legal drinking age is 21, this harm can actually occur to anyone under 25, because the brain is still developing at that point. So here are the most important things we can do to help our children make wise decisions:

  1. Talk to them about the dangers of underage drinking. Their brains are still developing, and alcohol can cause problems with that development.  The video below gives some good information about the effects on the teenage brain. We’ll list some additional resources at the bottom of this page.
  2. Never serve alcohol to anyone underage. In Virginia, it is illegal to do so, even if the alcohol is provided by a parent in the family’s home. Serving alcohol to anyone underage tells them that it is okay to drink. Once that barrier is broken, they become more likely to drink at other times.
  3. Make sure our children know our stance on underage drinking. We can’t assume they know that we would disapprove. We have to be clear and vocal about it. Also, note that this isn’t a one-and-done conversation. It is something we have to address over and over, just like when we were teaching them to say “thank you” as little children.
  4. Model healthy behavior. Each of us needs to determine what this looks like for our families. To paraphrase what Rozas Roz says to Mike Wazowski in Monster’s Inc.: Our kids are watching us, parents…always watching.


Resources for Parents:

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