Keeping children’s brains healthy and alcohol-free

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Today, Emily Clark of ABC4 is visiting with Heidi Grimshaw, the Family Life Commissioner for the Utah PTA who joins us today as a representative of Parents Empowered. She’s here to discuss the harms of underage drinking and what parents can do to ensure their kids’ developing brains remain healthy.

The Utah PTA has been a long-time supporter of Parents Empowered because they share the common mission to help promote Utah kids’ bright and healthy futures. As the Family Life Commissioner, Heidi has the opportunity to provide parents with information that will “assist in developing skills to raise and protect children and youth.” Parents Empowered provides research-based parenting skills that help keep children’s brains healthy and alcohol-free so they can realize their full potential.

Most parents figure they should be talking to their kids about underage drinking during the teen years, but it’s important to start the discussion much earlier and then continue an ongoing, age-appropriate conversation as they mature. The American Academy of Pediatrics now suggests that you talk to your child as early as age 9.

  • We know that underage drinking in Utah can start as early as 6th grade.
  • Studies show that at age 9, most kids still have a negative perception of alcohol use. But between the ages of 9 and 13, those attitudes can become increasingly favorable toward alcohol.
  • So, it’s especially important that kids be aware of the harms of alcohol to their healthy brains and that parents express strong disapproval of underage drinking and set clear rules against it.

Real conversations are made possible by real connections and trust. A sense of connectedness with your kids really helps you have that dialogue with your child. As kids get more independent, it can be hard to know where you stand in your relationship. Ask yourself a few questions to determine the strength of your relationship with your child:

  • Do they feel close to you?
  • Do they enjoy spending time with you?
  • Do they share their thoughts and feelings with you?
  • If your child had a personal problem, would they come to you for help?

If you feel like you need to get a little closer, try to spend 10-15 minutes per day with your child in their world, doing and talking about things they’re interested in.

  • Research indicates children are less likely to drink when their parents are involved in their lives and when they feel close to their parents yet, parental involvement often drops by half between the sixth and twelfth grades, right when kids need it most. Eat meals together. Kids who regularly eat meals with their family (at least five times per week) are 33% less likely to use alcohol.

Utah teens have reported the #1 influence in their life is their parents and the main reason they choose not to drink is parental disapproval, not friends and peer pressure.

The holidays are a great time to have a conversation with your kids about the harms of alcohol to the developing brain and to set clear rules about not drinking before age 21. The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control reports that alcohol sales increase by 31 percent during the holidays, making the availability of alcohol in homes much more likely.

It’s important to make it clear that you will not tolerate underage drinking. Studies show that if your child thinks you would view their drinking underage as very wrong, 97% choose not to drink. But if your child perceives you would only view it as wrong or a little wrong, the likelihood they will drink dramatically increases to almost 50%. That’s why parents’ clear rules against underage alcohol use are so powerful.

Clear, consistent communication with your kids is key. Weave the topic into your everyday conversations and ask them open-ended questions to help prepare them for situations where alcohol is present.

Ask your kids, “What would you do if someone offered you alcohol?” “If you and your friends were in an unsafe situation, how would you handle it?” “What if your friends’ parents allow alcohol at the party?” These are examples of open-ended questions that get your kids to think out loud, anticipate any obstacles, and practice saying no when faced with peer pressure situations. 

Also let your kids know that if they go somewhere and alcohol is present, they can call or text you and you will come pick them up.

Parents Empowered has a lot of tips and resources parents can use to start these conversations and help prevent underage drinking.

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