Parents often feel as if the advice they offer goes in one ear and out the other, but that shouldn’t stop them from talking about alcohol with kids as young as 9 years old, according to the nation’s leading group of pediatricians.
On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics published tips for parents to talk to children about alcohol and outlined strategies for picking up on risky behaviors -- such as drinking -- before it becomes a habit. The group also urged clinicians to ask every teenager they treat about alcohol use and to be on the lookout for at-risk adolescents.
The recommendations come at a time when rates of drinking among high schoolers and children at all grade levels have steadily dropped for several years. In 2014, 37 percent of high school seniors reported drinking in the past month, down from 44 percent in 2009, according to a long-term study of drug use in teens and kids by University of Michigan.
Still, one in three children begin drinking by the end of the eighth grade, and about 79 percent of 12th-graders have tried alcohol. About 80 percent of teenagers say parents – not friends or advertisements – have the biggest influence over them when it comes time to decide whether or not to take that first sip of alcohol.
Given these trends, parents should talk with children as young as 9 years old about the dangers of drinking alcohol, the group says. Alcohol use has been linked to car accidents, homicides and suicides, which are the leading causes of death and serious injury among adolescents.
Parents who delay the conversation too long may also put their child at risk for other ill effects associated with over-consumption, such as nausea, vomiting and depression. Teens who drink are more likely to make risky decisions and develop alcohol dependence in the future. They may suffer long-term consequences such as liver disease as a result.
The group adds that parents should talk with kids about how to decline a drink and tell them that they will always pick them up if they ever need to leave a party where alcohol is present.
The academy says parents don’t need to give up alcohol completely for their children's sake but should take care to model responsible drinking if they do indulge. For teens, though, the group takes a hard line -- don’t let them drink, even under a parent's supervision at home.