Six Tips for Talking about Alcohol

Six Tips for Talking to Your College/University Student about Alcohol

Terry-Lynne Marko, Public Health Nurse, Ottawa Public Health 

Do you have a youth heading off to college or university this fall? As a parent you may be worried about many things including alcohol use. Alcohol is the most commonly misused drug in our society. Unfortunately, it may only take one intoxication episode to put your youth in harm's way of injury, arrests, sexual assault or other life changing experiences. So what can you do as a parent to help? The simple answer is keep talking to them. It may provide guidance and reassurance to your youth and show them that you care. Here are six tips to consider before you get started.

1.    Listen more than talk

Your youth may not want to talk because they think you are going to lecture them, or feel you don't trust their judgement. Be patient and don't interrupt no matter how you may feel. Youth are sometimes reluctant to start talking, so once they start go with it. Remember, you are trying to figure out what they are really thinking about. You may also choose to share some of your experiences of campus life and the pressure to drink. Be sure to include what you may do differently from your experiences.

 2.    Summarize as you go

Summarizing as you go along ensures that you have understood what they were trying to tell you. If you have misunderstood, you can quickly reframe the conversation and keep going.

 3.    Timing is everything

Choosing a time and location to talk is one of the most important things to remember to ensure success. Choose a time when you are both rested and won't be distracted. Think about which day would be best, that is less rushed with no pressing commitments for both of you. Make a point of saying that you really want to give your full attention and suggest to put the cell phones and ipads away. 

 4.    Conflict is normal.

Expect conflict. The important thing is to plan ahead of how you are going to handle it. Keeping emotions out of the conversation may be difficult but try to stay calm and listen. Your youth may play the "you don't trust me" card, and emotions may start to show. Let them know you trust them but still need to talk. Focus on what is really being said not the emotions that may be shown.

 5.    Take your time

You cannot rush this type of conversation.  It takes time to explain and fully trust each other. Remember this isn't a marathon. If your talk isn't going well, say so and stop. Saying it out loud reinforces that even though it isn't working right now, the conversation is not over.  Wait and restart when you are both calm and rested.

 6.    Body language says more than words sometimes.

Have you heard the saying "A picture is worth a 1000 words"? Be aware that your posture says volumes about how you may or may not be feeling.  Be relaxed, focus on your youth, avoid crossing your arms, or looking away when they are talking. Follow along and show you are listening; nodding your head or thoughtful expressions are encouraging.

These six tips are only guidelines to help you talk to your youth. The fact that you want to have a conversation is most important. Remember to stay positive, calm and listen more than you talk. Alcohol misuse on campus has been around forever.  No matter what your youth tells you, stay positive. Remember why you are having this talk; to learn more about what they are thinking and keep them safe.  Hopefully by talking together, they may consider to think differently about alcohol and some of the challenges they may face on campus. 

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