In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics published new guidelines suggesting that parents start talking about alcohol with their children when they are around the age of nine. That seems too young, right?

It’s not. Think of what your children are seeing in the media—television, music videos, movies, internet—and maybe even in their own home. Dr. Lorena Siqueira, a Miami pediatrician, states that “surveys indicate that children start to think positively about alcohol between ages 9 and 13 years. The more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink.”

Research shows that parents (not television, friends, or advertising) are the leading influence in a child’s decision to drink or not to drink. Talking to your children about alcohol makes an impact on how they view alcohol and the decisions they make surrounding it.

Parenting isn’t easy, and talking to your children about drinking is one of those subjects many parents wish they could avoid. Here are a few tips on how to approach it:

Use an example. If you are watching a television show or movie and one of the characters is intoxicated, talk about it. Let your children know why a certain character is acting funny; let them know that it isn’t okay behavior. Sometimes, it might seem that alcohol use is being glorified; it’s your job to tell them about all of the negative effects alcohol can have on their health, safety, relationships—basically, their lives.

The power of “no.”Kids Health suggests taking the conversation one step further: teach them how to say “no.” You might go over a few different scenarios and role play. If your child is offered an alcoholic drink, teach them to say “no thanks.” Inform them about peer pressure and how it’s important for them to remain firm even if their friends are drinking. Remind them to leave any uncomfortable situation. Some parents find that offering to pick up their kids any time they feel they need to leave a party helps encourage kids to be honest and call when they need help.

Model. Show your children that you don’t need alcohol to have a good time. Every once in a while, have some of your friends over for an alcohol-free party. Also, model what responsible drinking looks like; if you like to have a glass of wine with dinner or a beer after work, that’s okay. You are of legal age, and you aren’t drinking excessively.

Be honest and open with your children. Let them know that you are there to answer any questions that they may have. As always when dealing with difficult subjects, open communication is key.

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photo credit: The bar at Seven’s Party via photopin (license)