Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
As parents, there are topics that we need to address with our kids that are scary—scary for us to think about, scary to have conversations about, and scary for them as it means potential loss of innocence and childhood. Usually involving personal safety, discussions about these topics begin with our young children as we teach them to look both ways when crossing the street and about stranger safety then progressing to more age appropriate topics involving friendships, online safety, and cyberbullying.
But what about underage drinking? It’s certainly another safety topic that needs to address but if you think that your kids are too young, think again.
According to The Century Council, statistics show that nearly 10 million youths ranging in age from 12-20 report they have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. Charged with providing information and developing programs that delay consumption of alcohol, prevent underage drinking, and reduce the access to alcohol by minors, The Century Council believes in parents being proactive by starting “the conversation at an early age and continue talking as they grow up.”
How do you be proactive and provide the tools your kids need to make good decisions? Parents weigh in.
Talk about it in an age appropriate way by framing the conversation about a healthy lifestyle.
Being proactive begins at a young age as we talk to kids about living a healthy lifestyle. Even though Grace Duffy from Formerly Gracie admits that her kids are so little that the “topic of underage drinking is still abstract” she frames it in a way that they understand. Not only does she limit their juice intake but has talks about what a grown up drink is versus a kid drink and incorporates nutrition and body chemistry.
Seize teachable moments
We know kids are observant and even when they appear to not be paying attention, they are. The Century Council’s Ask, Listen, Learn Brochure for Parents encourages taking advantage of daily opportunities. Perhaps there will be an article in the newspaper or a comment made about a friend that can serve as a springboard to conversation. Abby Hoffman is a mom of a third grader and high schooler and shared the following advice, “Most importantly, talk with your teen. Be involved in their life to a certain extent.”
Demonstrate your support
Talk the talk and then walk the walk. As parents, our kids need to know they can rely on us without getting in trouble or being judged harshly, especially when it comes to dangerous situations. Forbes contributor, Jim Henry, recalled a time when he was stranded after a rock concert in a bad part of Boston after midnight. He had to call his father to make a two hour round trip to bring him home but remembered his dad “never said one word of complaint and I was so grateful.” Author and blogger, Jennifer Wagner of Connect with Your Teens, echoed Henry by saying “the worst thing is for them to be scared to call when they are in a dangerous situation.”
Mom of 4 and Musings from Me founder, Jill Berry, encourages her kids to call her whenever they’re in a situation where alcohol is being served to minors because she “doesn’t want them at a gathering at someone’s home where alcohol is being served” even if the host parents are “supervising.”
But how do you give your child an out what could be a very uncomfortable situation? Father of three, Gabe Gonzales, remembered attending a talk by the Washington, D.C. based Parent Encouragement Program where he learned the importance of having a pre-arranged code word or phrase to use when they’re in an environment they don’t like. Gonzales described the benefit saying, “they can call you in front of their friends without losing face in front of them. So, for example, they could say to you- the parent- over the phone “I’ll finish that laundry tomorrow,” which would lead you to “demanding” that they come home right now” and provides a way for them to be picked up without embarrassment.
If necessary, provide concrete examples.
While shock and awe tactics may not be the best way to start a conversation about underage drinking, showing real life consequences to teens who may be tempted to imbibe are certainly memorable. Three parents reminisced about experiences that exposed them to horrors of underage drinking that they remember to this day:
“Every child should have a mother like mine. One that will take you to the morgue and show you what happens when you drink and drive and how it applies to real life.” ~ Lisa Frame, A Daily Pinch
“In high school we had helicopter pilots come in to talk to use prior to Prom Week and every accident they showed us was underage drinking by high school students. Some of the parents complained that the images were too graphic but they certainly had their place in getting the message across.” ~Rebecca Cervoni, Washington, D.C. parent of 2
“When I covered courts in Nashville, Tennessee, a surprising number of parents took their teenagers to Night Court on Friday nights to see what happens when you get arrested for DUI.” ~ Jim Henry, New York City based freelance writer
Teenagers enjoying drinks together via Shutterstock
Friday, March 9th, 2012
How do you start talking about tough topics like cyberbullying and online safety in an age appropriate way that provides practical knowledge and common sense without making your children fearful? Start slowly and use free resources from reputable organizations that are targeted to their age level. Empowering children against bullying provides them with critical tools and knowledge that not only are helpful against cyberbullying, but are versatile life skills that will serve them well in a variety of situations.
Great for all ages:
- Common Sense Media says that “staying safe is about a child’s entire online experience” and provides reasons why internet safety is important along with internet safety basics that serve as the dos and don’ts of the online world through their free downloadable Common Sense on Internet Safety for Elementary School Kids. Visit the second page of the document for Strategies for a responsible- and safer- online life.
Tweens and Teens:
- Let’s be honest- it can be hard to convey a message to tweens and teens without being preachy. In the world of cybersafety, MTV capitalizes on their ability to reach tweens and teens through A Thin Line. Designed to educate in a hip way that appeals to the current MTV generation, A Thin Line provides parents with tools for starting conversations on digital abuse, gauging your child’s awareness, and also encourages action. Parents of tweens and teens can begin with Get the Facts to brush up on current topics. Know it all tweens and teens will be challenged in their knowledge of what does and doesn’t constitute digital abuse when taking a short quiz. Because there’s a thin line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, A Thin Line will also teach them how to defend their digital domain.
- Tweens and teens who have a firm grasp on internet safety are being called upon to be mentors to others through a user-generated video contest called What’s Your Story. Designed to give youth a voice by educating others about the online safety and digital citizenship in a fun way, What’s Your Story empowers kids to make the internet a safe and secure place for them and their friends. Individuals and schools can enter videos on topics such as taking action against bullying, maintaining a good online reputation, and being cell smart for the chance to win cash prizes ranging from $1,000-$10,000.
Cyber Bullying via Shutterstock
Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
Bullying. It’s a word that makes parents shy away from whether your child is on the giving or receiving end or if the bullying is face to face or occurring in cyberspace. Despite the prevalence of cyberbullying, bullying has been around forever and causes real feelings to be hurt. It’s not something to be taken lightly.
If you’re wary about talking to your kids about bullying, kids of all ages can be empowered to speak up for themselves and their friends. Here’s what you need to know in order to start the conversations in your home and encourage your kids to keep talking about what they’re experiencing regardless of their age to encourage a sense of empowerment.
1. Know what bullying is. If you are ashamed to not be current on all the information, StopBullying.gov has information on what bullying is, recognizing the signs, and how to get help. The National Bullying Prevention Center defines bullying, harassment, and provides 3 steps to take if your child is being targeted through Bullying Info and Facts.
2. Encourage your kids to talk about bullying. Many parents don’t talk about it and that makes kids not want to discuss it. How do you get the ball rolling if you haven’t already? Ask open ended questions to create conversation. Let your children know it is something that you are concerned about and they need to tell an adult. Your kids may not tell you directly but perhaps they will tell another family member, sibling, or peer.
When our son was in preschool and was being called names by his peers, he didn’t come to me or my husband. He confided in his older sister before bed one evening. Being worried, she told me. I was proud that she recognized the importance of the situation and was concerned about her brother’s hurt feelings to tell us so we could have a conversation with the teacher.
3. Listen. Being able to recognize behaviors as bullying is important but so is listening and following your child’s lead. Earlier this year our second grade daughter told me that some kindergarten boys were chasing her and calling her names. We could have easily dismissed this as them having a crush, younger kids being silly, etc. but what seemed to be fun play at recess quickly turned into harassment. Dinner time conversations centered around talk of the boys behavior but she assured us she could handle this on her own. She was annoyed but didn’t want to take any more action than telling the teachers on recess duty.
We listened and took cues from her. She wanted us to have a hands off approach and wanted to handle it on her own. This was difficult especially since she was upset buta t age 8, we made the conscious decision to let her feel empowered. Eventually it progressed to the point where she wasn’t enjoying recess at all that was brought to our attention by a fellow parent who called to tell us that her daughter noticed ours was upset. That was when we knew it was time for us to intervene.
Together we brainstormed about next steps. She decided it was time to talk to the school administration. While the matter was taken seriously and handled swiftly, we let her be the guide, practicing life skills like resiliency while listening and intervening when necessary.
4. Reinforce the importance of being a friend. Getting a phone call about my daughter’s recess harassment from a fellow parent demonstrated how much our community cares and the importance of friends.
Being a good friend is always important but even more so when a child is being bullied. Encourage your child to help a friend who is being bullied by taking a stand to discourage a culture of bullying by telling bullies their behavior is not ok.
If your child needs a tangible reminder, KidsAgainstBullying.org has a pledge accessible by clicking on the treasure chest on their site. They also have a downloadable Kids Against Bullying Certificate when they agree to speak up when seeing others being bullied, reach out to others who are being bullied, and to be a friend whenever they see bullying.
5. Acknowledge that emotional scars that come from bullying are as harmful as the physical ones. While being punched or kicked leaves bruises and scars that can be seen on the outside, the internal hurt from bullying is also real.
Later this week I’ll be sharing age appropriate bullying and cyberbullying resources for parents of preschoolers, elementary, tweens, and teens.
Child sits on stairs holding his head in his hands via Shutterstock