One of the tougher issues that parents are forced to deal with in any divorce or separation is the loss of our ability to keep our kids safe, or the loss of oversight for their care during the time that they are with the other parent. We need to prepare them to manage situations that might happen when they are away from us. When it comes to alcohol or other drugs, we can start with building our children’s awareness of the signs and consequences of drugs and alcohol use. If you suspect your ex or another adult is drinking around your kids, be sure that this conversation is separate from any conversation about specific people. Sharing this information will give them the language to use when discussing any alcohol/drug related behavior they might see.
Depending upon their age, the information you share will change.
Keep the conversation focused on the present. Let them know what alcohol is in an easy-to-understand way.
- Alcohol is a substance or chemical that’s in drinks like beer and wine. It’s only for adults and only in small amounts. Adults can drink a little bit as a treat- just like eating a little ice cream is a treat. But if adults drink too much, alcohol becomes a poison to our bodies. Kids and adults, if they drink too much, can get sick, may act silly or get very emotional, sad or mad.
- It slows down your brain and you can’t think as well.
- For kids it can more easily damage their body.
Kids at this age generally like to learn and want to understand how things work. This is the great time to begin sharing alcohol drug and alcohol facts with kids. In addition to the items above you can add:
- Alcohol/drugs can make you more likely to fall, or spill things.
- It can give you a hangover, which may make you throw up, have a headache.
- It can have long-term effects, such as:
- liver damage
- loss of appetite
- stomach problems
- heart and brain damage
- memory loss
Ages 12 and up
At this age your kids will have some thoughts already about alcohol and drugs. Ask them what they know and what their thoughts are. Listen carefully, let them know it is a safe zone. Teenagers may know people who use alcohol and drugs and may have friends that drive. Alcohol and drugs effect our brain and hampers our decision making. Why Alcohol Lowers Inhibitions is a great article you can discuss with your teenagers and preteens.
Conversations about alcohol and drugs can include discussions about peer pressure
Discuss peer pressure. Do they know what it is and how it works? Peer pressure is when a person is swayed by other people, friends, acquaintances, to take an action or participate in an activity they normally wouldn’t. Sometimes peer pressure can help us to try healthy activities that we normally wouldn’t, like dancing or trying new foods. Other times it can feel like being forced or bullied to do something we don’t want to do.
Peer pressure works on us because as humans we want to be accepted, we want to be cool, we want to be part of a group or community. Ask your kids if they’ve every felt pressured to do something. Supply example situations in which they might feel pressured to do something they didn’t want to do.
- A friend takes a candy bar at the store and tries to convince them to do the same.
- A friend wants to look at your test.
- A friend is being bullied at school by another group of kids.
- An acquaintance at skate park lights up a cigarette and offers one to them.
- They are offered a drink or drugs at a party or when hanging out a friend’s house.
Talking through these types of scenarios helps your kids to be prepared to cope with them and make better decisions.
Using movies can give visual examples and points of discussion about alcohol use and peer pressure
Animated movies have scenes of alcohol use, which could be appropriate for younger children.
- Beauty and the Beast: Gaston consoles himself with drink after Belle rejects him
- Peter Pan: Mr. Smee gets drunk on champagne
- Pinocchio: Pinocchio gets drunk
- Dumbo: Dumbo gets drunk and see’s dancing elephants
- Ratatouille: Linguine gets drunk
Teens might relate more to the movies below. Make sure you are familiar and comfortable with the content before you share with your kids.
- A Walk to Remember (PG): Peer Pressure and Alcohol
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower (PG-13): Peer Pressure
- The Breakfast Club (R); Peer Pressure
- The Hangover (R): Peer Pressure and Alcohol
Watch the movies together and ask them what they think about what’s happening. With the animated shows, ask what the character drank? Do they think it had alcohol? What was the clue, or the behavior that made them think it was alcohol?
…teach them to never get in a car with anyone who has been drinking. If an adult is asking them to do so, tell your children to call or text you.
If, during these discussions, your child tells you that the other parent, grandma, aunt or babysitter has been drunk around them or may have been drunk around them, remember that your priority is to keep your kids safe. Teach them to never get in a car with anyone who has been drinking. If an adult is asking them to do so, tell your children to call or text you. Talk with the other adult in advance and be sure they know this is not acceptable. If you can afford it, get a cell phone for your child to be able to easily reach you. In addition to ensuring their safety, it’s okay to get more details to help them process what they experience. How do they feel about it? Does it happen very often? Do they feel safe? Let them know if they ever feel unsafe, they can call you, or text you and you will be there to pick them up.
Following up with adults who might be drinking around your kids
If possible, talk to the adult they name about their drinking and your concern for them and for the kids. Pick a time of day when they are not likely to be drinking. Don’t have the kids around for this conversation. When speaking with the person suspected of abusing alcohol or drugs keep in mind the following:
- Talk to them from a caring place – you are concerned about. Use “I” statements.
- Ask what they think of their use of alcohol? Are they worried about themselves? If they say yes, ask them if they want to talk about it.
- Encourage them to share their feelings that might be contributing to excessive drinking. Be a safe place. Be understanding and empathetic. You might say, “I know you’ve been stressed” or “I know this break up has been hard.”
- Avoid using the word alcoholic. Talk about what the kids have said or what you have seen.
- Don’t judge or tell them what to think when they begin to share. Ask them what they think? If they tell you they think they have a problem, ask them if they want your help dealing with it, or it they have ideas about how they would like to deal with it. You can ask them how they think it affects the kids, or if it affects the kids.
If they are not willing to talk, and this is a person other than your ex, discuss it with your ex and make other arrangements for your children’s care. If this is your ex, you will need to begin to document what the kids are reporting to you for proof if you need mediation services to adjust your legal agreement to address a drinking issue. Look for any signs or alcohol and/or drug use when you see your former partner. During the times they spend away from you, call to talk to the kids. This will allow you to check on them and you may notice signs of drinking that you can document in the process. Use this tactic sparingly.
Additional Support is available
Consider bringing your kids to a family therapist for support, or suggest to your ex, that you all go – for the kids. Therapists are trained to have these discussions and can serve as independent sources should you need them during mediation.
Consider going to Al-Anon for support. Enter Al-Anon in your browser and local meeting places and contact information will be in the results.
Conversations about drugs, alcohol and peer pressure
These conversations can be uncomfortable, most important conversations are. To be the most effective they are not a one and done, but an ongoing conversation with your kids. Arming them to manage peer pressure and enabling them to make good decisions around drugs and alcohol is smart parenting.