This is such an important topic I would really love to link it so can help other parents and contribute. Start a conversation with your tween. It can be hard to talk about alcohol, no matter what your child’s age. But talking is important. Parents, role models, coaches, community members, grandparents—we all have a responsibility to keep our children safe. You can start off by watching TV together. Use a recent news item or story line as a reference and ask what your child and his or her friends think about the issue. Listen and be respectful. It might be hard for your child to explain her position if she feels that you already have a right or wrong answer waiting. Prepare your child. Start the talk and keep it going. Talking about alcohol or other difficult topics means many ongoing conversations. Create the space for both of you to talk, and let your child do much of the talking. Ask questions and show that you’re listening and hearing what your tween or teen is saying. Stay open-minded and supportive. You can never tell your child that you love him or her too much. You can use that love to open the conversation and let him or her know that you won’t get angry if you both are honest and willing to learn from each other. Don’t be judgmental. It goes hand in hand with being open-minded, but try not to jump to conclusions. You can try asking your son to walk you through a decision he’s made or will be making. Admit your mistakes. Many parents worry about their own early introduction to alcohol or drugs. You may decide to be honest with your child and tell the truth. You can admit your mistakes and turn the discussion back to your teen. You might try, “This isn’t about me. It’s about you and making sure that you are safe.” Or you might decide not to share your history at this time. Be clear. Make sure your child knows that you do not want him or her using alcohol or drugs. Talk about why, including the risks of using either. Talk through boundaries. Talk about and agree on boundaries and rules, like curfew and privacy. Once agreed upon, these boundaries need to be respected. Be sure your teen is following them and stay true to them yourself. Set reasonable consequences. When boundaries are broken, the consequences need to be consistently enforced. But these consequences also need to be reasonable. Setting punishments that are too harsh or severe can undermine your relationship and all of the progress you’re trying to make. Create a safe word. Many parents use a safe word or phrase that a teen can use while they’re out with peers. Texting this phrase (or saying it over the phone) lets you know that he or she needs your help getting out of a tough situation. Practice, practice, practice. Keep talking with your teen and practice how she might handle tough situations. You can walk through how or when she might be asked to use alcohol or drugs and together, you can work through how to respond. Show that you understand how difficult these situations can be.
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