OPINION: Talk to your children about alcohol
School's nearly out for the summer and that means a lot of great things, especially here in Alaska. It also means that your kids are about to have much more free time on their hands, an opportunity for creativity and learning but also for risky activities. With summer just around the corner, now is the perfect time to open a dialogue about alcohol use with your children.
This week kicks off National Prevention Week (May 14-20), a time dedicated to increasing awareness of, and action around, substance abuse and mental health issues. This goes for Alaskans of all ages, but one area of focus for Recover Alaska during this week is the prevention of underage drinking.
Here in Alaska, 14.3 percent of youth under age 13 have tried drinking alcohol, and roughly one in five teens reports using alcohol in the past month. Not only is drinking before age 21 dangerous and illegal, it is also harmful to the developing brains of our children.
In fact, research shows that children who drink prior to age 15 are four times more likely to develop an alcohol dependence later on in life.
Prevention of underage drinking starts at home. Having the "alcohol talk" with your child can be a daunting milestone, but keep in mind that the greatest factor influencing a child's choice is you. It is important to educate them on the potential risks of abusing alcohol and open the conversation to establish a firm foundation of trust.
It doesn't need to be a formal affair; try bringing up the subject when you see an ad for alcohol on TV or hear it mentioned in their favorite song. You don't need to get all your points across in one talk. In fact, you are more likely to have a greater impact on your child's decisions if it is a common topic.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula on how to talk about substance abuse with your kids, but the national "Talk. They Hear You" campaign at samhsa.gov does provide many resources for parents and caregivers on how to approach the conversation. They even have an app that lets you practice how to bring it up, learn which questions to ask, and get ideas on how to keep the conversation going.
We should also highlight and celebrate healthy behaviors! Instead of only telling your children what not to do, give them options of fun activities, and praise them for opting out of a party where there might be alcohol. Encouraging positive choices works wonders.
Finally, role model good behaviors. If you drink responsibly as a parent your child is more likely to grow up to do the same. If you are struggling with your alcohol use, take an anonymous screening at recoveralaska.org or call 2-1-1 for information and assistance.
National prevention week is an opportunity for us to rally around the idea that prevention saves lives and deserves our attention and efforts. Recover Alaska will be posting facts and resources on our social media outlets every day. I invite all of you to participate in this six-day nationwide campaign, with us or on your own.
At Recover Alaska we work to reduce excessive alcohol use and harm, and we strongly believe that early prevention is a step in the right direction. Alcohol is often cited as the number one health issue in our state, and it is up to all of us to change our state's statistics.
Our hope is that caregivers begin talking to the children in their lives about alcohol well before they start drinking. Even if it doesn't seem like they are listening, they really do hear you.
Tiffany Hall is executive director of Recover Alaska.