Part One in a two-part series.
Ask any parents if they are concerned about keeping their kids safe from the ravages of alcoholism and they’ll surely say yes. But many parents, perhaps unwittingly, are laying the groundwork for alcohol misuse and abuse among their children. As a parent, you play a more important role in the prevention of alcoholism than any other influencer in your child’s life. Are your negative behaviors or lack of positive initiatives giving the potential for alcohol abuse the upper hand?
Most parents expect that children would be able to determine the proper boundaries for alcohol use, regardless of what is modeled in the home. For example, a parent may exhibit excessive use of alcohol, but a minor should realize that this behavior is not to be emulated. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. More than what you say, kids learn by what you do.
Here are a few ways you may be unintentionally sending your kids the wrong message about alcohol:
The Drinking Habit. What is the place of alcohol in the home? Is the close of every day met with a cocktail? Does wine accompany every meal or family occasion? Are sports times beer times? None of these practices are inherently wrong or suggestive of a drinking problem, but realize that you are sending a message to your children: In the life of an adult, habitual alcohol use is not only normal, but even necessary.
Or perhaps when times get stressful around the house, do you immediately reach for a drink? When you’ve had a rough day, do you pour yourself a double? This behavior, though it may seem normal enough among adults, demonstrates to your children that the best way to cope with difficult work situations, tense familial relationships and general stress is to drown the problem with alcohol. Instead of turning to healthy coping mechanisms like prayer, communication, exercise, positive forms of relaxation, or therapy for more serious issues, you turn to the bottle. Rather than dealing with the upset, you evade it. Your children will learn to do the same.
You don’t have to be an alcoholic to model alcohol poorly in the home. Children cannot differentiate between what is normal or excessive consumption. What they will see, however, is that alcohol is ubiquitous in the life of an adult. As grown-ups, this is the framework upon which they will build their drinking habits.
Avoidance of the topic. Prevention begins at home. While most schools have alcohol prevention modules as part of the curriculum, the real instructor is you. You are the primary moral guide and teacher for your children. Though the information they learn at school may be in line with your stated beliefs, if it doesn’t match up with your conduct, it will be an afterthought.
Some parents are reluctant to have frank conversations about alcohol because they fear that talking about alcohol and alcoholism will create a threat that wasn’t previously there. Talking about alcohol does not create a threat – avoiding it does. Kids need to hear your view on alcohol and maybe even your struggles with it. Be prepared to have an honest discussion with your kids about drinking, its dangers, and your expectations within the home. Answer any questions they may have.
Regardless of the practices around alcohol in your household, it is important to be aware of them and to address them. For example, there is no great evil in serving wine with dinner – it’s a common practice the world over. But it is also important to have a discussion about why you pair wine with dinner, what constitutes normal enjoyment of alcoholic beverages, and what does not.
When the dangers of alcohol are overstated and children’s curiosity is not indulged at home, they will experiment outside the home – where the consequences are much greater. Help kids understand what is safe and acceptable, and what is not. They will carry this knowledge and experience cultivated within the home into their encounters with alcohol outside the home.