Tips on Talking and Role Modeling: How to have conversations and what you can do to set a positive example.

While your child is now a legal adult, they still look to you as they move into this new chapter of their life. Your child will look to you for information, to see how you respond to situations and what choices you make, what your values are, and for help.

Parents Matter: Talking with your College Student about Alcohol Use.

The Conversation: What to expect

Talking about alcohol is not always easy, in fact, it may be uncomfortable for you AND your child. When the time and the setting are right, let your child know that you want to talk to them. Remember that your child is looking for more independence; make sure they know that you want to hear their thoughts too. If your child doesn’t want to talk, remember that there is no need to force having the conversation; you can always try again the next day or two. Your willingness to back-off shows that you are respecting them. Your child will react to this topic in a variety of ways. Here are a few reactions that you may run into:

  • Suspicion about your sudden interest in the topic
  • Doubts that you will understand/respect them
  • Fear of hearing a lecture
  • Indifference or lack of concern
  • Anger for invasion of their privacy

These reactions can make the conversations tough, but remember that this does not mean that your child doesn’t want to talk with you about alcohol and other drugs. Your reaction to the conversation and the approach you take can make all of the difference. Try to convey the following:

  • A caring tone and perspective
  • A desire to understand
  • Respect of your child’s privacy and desire to be independent

Before the Conversation

Make sure that you are well informed and that you have accurate information. Here are the key items that you will want to talk about with your child:

  • Basic information regarding how alcohol works in the body.
  • Negative consequences of alcohol:
    • Legal consequences (including additional consequences the college may have)
    • The more alcohol is consumed, the less likely your child is to succeed academically
    • Violence, injuries, and accidents
    • Increased chance of sexual assault
    • Relationship issues
    • Negative impact on the body
  • Ideas on how to say no - encourage your child to stand up for their beliefs and decisions
  • Getting involved on campus
  • Answer questions they might have and clear up myths

What Do I Say?

Remember that your young adult is looking for increased independence, responsibility, and freedom. They have learned about alcohol and other drugs in school and they may think they already know all that they need to.

Start the Conversation with a Question. Consider starting the conversation by asking your child what they think college will be like, what they are looking forward to, and what they think about alcohol and other drugs. Here are some sample questions:

  • What are you looking forward to at college?
  • What are you feeling uneasy about?
  • What do you think college life will be like?

Broaching the Topic. Once you get them talking, bring up the subject of alcohol and other drugs. Remember to talk with your child, not at them. This will show them the respect that you have for them as a new adult, and your trust in them. Here are some sample questions:

  • What do you think about alcohol and other drugs?
  • How do you want to respond if someone asks you to drink or do drugs?
  • If you run into problems while at college, who will you go to for help?

Inform Your Child. Before letting the conversation end, share with your child some of the things you know about alcohol and drugs. For example:

  • “Did you know that marijuana affects memory and learning? Using marijuana while trying to learn and do well in class only makes college harder.”
  • “Did you know that 4 or more standard drinks for women or 5 or more standard drinks for men is binge drinking? I know you’ve learned in high school how much binge drinking can harm you.”

Your Expectations. Finally, make sure your child knows that they can come to you with questions about alcohol and drugs, and that they have a clear understanding of your expectations. Here are some examples:

  • “I want you to know that, no matter what, you can always come to me. If you have questions, if something happens and you don’t know what to do, I’m always here.”
  • “I’m glad that we were able to talk about this. I want you to know that I expect your top priority to be to doing well in your classes. I want you to have fun and make friends too, but I want you to avoid drinking until you turn 21. Thanks for talking about this with me.”
  • “I know there could be times when it’s tempting, but I want to be clear in telling you that I expect you to wait until you are 21 to drink. I’m always here to answer any questions you have or if you ever need help. I feel better now that we have talked about this.”

Role Modeling

It is easy to forget that our children look to us to inform the decisions they make. This is particularly true regarding our personal use of alcohol. Positive role modeling has a direct impact on the choices your child will make. Serve as a positive role model by not drinking excessively, by avoiding alcohol consumption in high-risk situations (e.g., when driving a motor vehicle, while boating, and while operating machinery), and by seeking professional help for alcohol-related problems. Here are a few tips.

Avoid Story Telling. Everyone enjoys a good story, but you may want to consider saving your stories about any drinking habits you may have had when you were younger or when you were in college, for a later time in your child’s life. If your child hears you tell stories about the way you used to party, they may interpret it to mean that you are okay with them partying. It is also easy for your child to believe, “If my parent did it and they’re okay, I will be too.” This can be especially harmful because of how trends or even chemicals have changed over time. There are current trends of college students drinking hard alcohol straight rather than mixed with something like pop or juice. This trend makes it easy to consume a great deal of alcohol in a short amount of time, sometimes unknowingly. Marijuana, for example, is 4.5 - 27 times stronger now than it was in 1976 (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2012).

I’ve already shared stories…now what? If you’ve already shared stories, be sure to have another conversation with your child making it clear what your expectations are. Let your child know of times when you made wise decisions regarding alcohol and what you learned from decisions you wouldn’t make again now.

Practice Low-Risk Use. Expecting your child to wait until they are 21 to consume alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t drink until they are 21 too. When you choose to drink, make decisions that demonstrate low-risk alcohol consumption. Here are a few tips to follow:

  • Have a plan before you start, share with your child what that plan is. Will you be driving? Who will you be with? Do you know how many you want to drink?
  • Keep it to one standard drink an hour. It takes the body a little over one hour to digest one standard drink, keeping it down to one an hour keeps your risks down too.
  • 3 or 4, no more. Remember that 4 or more drinks for women, 5 or more for men, is considered binge drinking. Set a cap for yourself of no more than three (for women) or four (for men).
  • Avoid highs and lows. Each time you’ve had a rough day, are you finishing the day with a drink? If so, you could be sending a message to your child that drinking alcohol when something is not going well is a good idea. Similarly, is there always alcohol around in times of celebration? If so, it could be sending the message that celebrations should include alcohol. How do you model alcohol use?

You are watching television with your son when a story comes on the news reporting a drunk driving crash.

What to Say
"I am so proud of the choices you have made and hope that you would never choose to drink and drive. I bet you could lose your scholarship/job if you did that.”

Suggestions for Parents on How to Communicate with their Children via Text Messages

Here are some texting examples:
  • Hope UR having fun. Stay smart. Luv u
  • Be ur self. Be safe
  • I’m lucky ur my kid. Luv u
  • Thx for being so great. Have fun. Stay safe
  • If u need me – call me
  • Remember, I trust u. Love ya
  • Remember our talk. Love u and have fun.
  • Be careful and have fun.
  • Let me know where u r when u have a min. thx
  • Give me a call when u get a chance. Luv u
  • I’m always here if u need to talk.
  • Luv u.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012). North Dakota University System (2013).