National Red Ribbon Week, held Oct. 23-31, brings millions of people together to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and encourages prevention, early intervention, and treatment services. Red Ribbon week is the nation's oldest and largest drug prevention program.
The Drug Free Alliance Coalition sponsored by Trinity Regional Medical Center, will be kicking off a yearly campaign in October to encourage parents/guardians and other relatives to start talking to their children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nieces or nephews early and often about the dangers of underage drinking. Through this campaign, parents/guardians will be encouraged to start talking to their children or relatives before they start drinking as evidence shows that children begin to think about and experiment with alcohol as early as fifth grade. More than 70 percent of children say parents are the leading influence in their decision to drink underage or not.
To help start the conversation about the dangers of underage drinking with your child, the Drug Free Alliance in cooperation with the Fort Dodge schools will be distributing footballs with a printed message "Start Talking Before They Start Drinking." Parents are encouraged to "pass" on the football to their children or relatives as a conversation starter.
When talking with your children about the dangers of drinking under age the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence recommends the following:
1. Make your family values clear, that alcohol is for people age 21 and over. When you are old enough to drink, drink responsibly. Never drink and drive or ride with someone who has been drinking.
2. Be honest about your past. If you drank, own up to it, but let your kids know that doesn't give them license to make the same mistakes.
3. Be a role model. Think about what you say and how you act in front of your child. Your own actions are the most powerful indicator to your children of what is appropriate and acceptable in your family.
4. Avoid making alcohol a focal point in family or holiday celebrations.
5. Give kids an out if they find themselves in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. Check up on them. Have a code to signal they need you to pick them up.
6. Know where your children are and get acquainted with their friends.
7. It's never too late or too early to start talking. Be calm and speak with conviction. Avoid getting defensive or emotional regardless of what buttons your child may be trying to push.
8. Young people are much less likely to have mental health and substance abuse problems when they have positive activities to do and when caring adults are involved in their lives.
9. Make your child aware that underage drinking is implicated in most accidents, injuries, sexual assaults and deaths among young people.
10. Be smart about picking a time to talk. Avoid last minute lectures; rather have a heart-to-heart, honest discussion when you and your child are comfortable. Show you care. Even though young teens may not always show it, they still need to know that they are important to their parents. Make it a point to regularly spend one-on-one time with your child, time when you can give him or her your loving, undivided attention. Some activities to share: a walk, a bike ride, a quiet dinner out, or a cookie-baking session.
According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, "Parents need to know that study after study shows they have the biggest influence over a youth's decision regarding drinking. Parents need to talk early and often with their children about alcohol and those children who are disciplined by their parents when they do drink underage are much less likely to do it again verses the parents who ignore this behavior."
So let's get talking and keep talking. It is difficult as parents to keep talking through the "I know Mom/Dad." eye-rolling, etc., we as parents often encounter from our kids when discussing topics such as underage drinking, but research shows they are listening.
Teresa Newman is manager of Trinity's Healthy Living Department and the coordinator of the Drug Free Alliance.