Parents: Now is the time to set expectations about alcohol use

Children drinkingWhen my kids were little and wanted to know how long it would take to get to our friends’ house a few miles away, I would use the only yardstick I knew their little brains could grasp: “One Spongebob episode.” That moment wasn’t just about answering their questions; it was about creating an expectation in their minds about how much longer they had to stay strapped into those hot, cramped car seats.

A few years have passed since the sippycup- and-car-seat days, but one holdover remains: I’m still setting expectations for my kids. It’s a practice I plan to keep around for a long time. As a parent, I won’t be able to control everything they do when they’re out with friends, but I can let them know what is appropriate behavior, what I expect of them – and importantly, the consequences if they choose to ignore those expectations. That’s why when we talk about using alcohol, I let them know where I stand. If you haven’t talked to your kids yet, there’s no time like now. Prom and graduation season is a peak underage drinking time, and since April is Alcohol Awareness Month, it’s a good time to start a conversation with your kids about your expectations around alcohol use.

Here are some tips to help you begin those conversations:

• Discuss the serious dangers and consequences of drinking and driving. Florida law mandates arrest and license revocation/ suspension of any person under 21 driving with .02% or more blood alcohol content. (Less than one drink.)

• Talk with your child about the dangers of club drugs, warning signs and who to notify for assistance.

• Pre-plan and role-play answers that your child can use to get out of uncomfortable situations. (e.g., offered alcohol, getting a ride from an intoxicated driver, unwanted sexual advances, etc.)

• Discuss guidelines and a curfew. Discuss the consequences of violating these rules.

• Know who is driving to the prom/graduation and who will be a passenger. Limit the number of passengers to increase safety and reduce driver distractions.

• Know the location of the post-event parties and who is sponsoring them.

• Know who your teen is attending the prom with, and discuss the plans for preand post-event parties with other parents.

• If your teens’ plans change, confirm the change with the parents of other teens. Nationally 42% of high school seniors admit drinking, something many parents consider a rite of passage. The problem is that young, developing brains don’t mature until about the age of 24 and are especially susceptible to the effects of alcohol.

Studies have shown that drinking alcohol damages kids’ brains – possibly permanently – and impairs their intellectual development. Not the expectation most parents have for their kids.

If you plan to host a party for your teen, visit Informed Families’ web site, www.informedfamlies. org, to learn more about how to do so safely and to take a Safe Homes/Safe Parties pledge. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) also offers some excellent resources for parents. You can find MADD’s research-based parent handbook PowerTalk 21® on

The sad truth is that alcohol remains the drug most commonly used by youth — more than all illegal drugs combined. The startling statistic is that one out of six teens binge drinks, but only one in 100 parents thinks their child binge drinks. As a parent or caregiver, you DO have the power to help your teens make healthy decisions that can keep them safe.

Parents, remember: YOU are the No. 1 reason your kids don’t use alcohol or drugs. Start the conversation, set expectations, be firm. Keep them safe.

Margaret Sotham is the Director of the South Miami Drug-Free Coalition, which is sponsored by Informed Families. She can be reached at

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