Children see drinking all around them — at home, in restaurants, at family celebrations and on television — and they are naturally curious about alcohol and the way it affects people. You should always answer your child’s questions honestly. You should also be prepared to initiate discussions about alcohol if you believe they have questions, but seem hesitant to ask.
Some parents say that because alcohol is a legal drug, it is hard for them to think of it as being dangerous. Other parents say they find it difficult to talk about alcohol with their children because they drink. But alcohol is the drug most often used by young people, and the consequences of its use can be harmful to your child in many ways.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation. Families in Europe and other parts of the world introduce children to alcohol at a much younger age than we do in the U.S., with no ill effects. They do so just as they do with introducing a child or teen to any new food or drink — as a part of a complete meal (usually a small glass of wine for older children at dinner).
Adults run into problems with alcohol when overusing it. Children run into problems with alcohol when it’s seen as “forbidden fruit” and adults hold it out as some sort of mystical drink they can’t have. When you forbid a child or teen to try something, that usually makes it that much more attractive to them. For most children or teens, it’s not a matter of if they try alcohol, it’s only a matter of when. (And, in the U.S., that’s usually long before the legal drinking age of 21.)
It is never too early to start talking with your child about drinking and the pros and cons of alcohol. Some children start asking questions when they’re four or five years old. Many parents make the mistake of waiting until the child has begun drinking, but if you listen and respond to your child sensitively, you may be able to help prevent problems from developing later.
If you suspect that your child might have a problem with alcohol, watch for the following signs:
- smell of alcohol on breath, or sudden, frequent use of breath mints
- abrupt changes in mood or attitude
- sudden decline in attendance or performance at school
- loss of interest in school, sports or other activities that used to be important
- sudden resistance to discipline at school
- uncharacteristic withdrawal from family, friends or interests
- heightened secrecy about actions or possessions
- a new group of friends whom your child refuses to discuss
What Do You Do If Your Child Has a Problem With Alcohol?
Your child’s use (or overuse) of alcohol at a young age can be a serious problem that impacts their social functioning and academic performance if not addressed. Seek out help for your child in the form of a child psychologist or child therapist to help with the issue. Usually just forbidding and grounding the child won’t be sufficient of the problem is serious or long-standing. Outside help is usually necessary — and can work wonders.