Youth and Alcohol

Youth, Alcohol and Role-Modeling

By: Melody Mantil PHN

Brains, we've all got one. It helps us talk, walk, see, think, figure out sounds and smells, make decisions and plan. It' s an amazing tool to work with. The brain of a youth is in its learning peak. In fact, the human brain keeps growing into our early 20's.

Drinking alcohol during the early and mid-teenage years can hurt a growing brain and cause long term damage. What's the best advice to parents? ... Prevent youth from drinking or delay the use of alcohol for as long as possible. Alcohol directly affects brain cells and slows down the signals in the brain. Also, heavy drinking in youth may lead to alcohol addiction later. Visit the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health for ways to prevent problems with alcohol and other drugs in your family.

Another thing parents can do is be a healthy role model for alcohol use. Role-modeling is something we can do right from the beginning with any health behaviour.

Here are some tips that may help:

  • Have fun as a family without alcohol use! This helps youth learn you do not need alcohol to have fun.
  • Youth that feel loved and valued have a much better chance of avoiding problems with alcohol when they are older.
  • Youth involved with activities that make them happy such as art, sports or drama, have a sense of belonging.
  • Talk with your youth about alcohol or make sure there is another adult they can talk to. Visit the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for ways to talk to your child or youth about alcohol.
  • Be a role model by following Canada's Low Risk Drinking Guidelines.

As you know, kids watch and learn- there is little that gets by them. Here is a story from one of our own, showing us just how much kids see and pick up on.

"I recently started working as part of Ottawa Public Health's team that promotes the Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines - a set of recommendations about limits related to drinking alcohol. I of course thought these guidelines didn't apply to me - was I ever wrong!

A few summers ago, I made some new friends and rediscovered the fun of 'going out'. I was responsible in that when heading to a friend's house, I would plan to spend the night; or when we went to a bar, we would always take a taxi home.  I let my kids know how I stayed safe when I was drinking, hoping to impart wisdom upon my 10 and 12 year old children. 

Just a little while ago, I let my daughter know that a friend was joining me and that she would drive me home later.  My 10-year-old daughter looked at me and asked, "Oh, Mommy, are you getting drunk tonight? Is that why she is coming to pick you up?  Have a good time! Oh, will you be coming home tonight?"

My heart broke.  She believed that having a friend pick me up meant I was going to drink.  Though she understood that I wouldn't drink and drive, which is an important lesson for her to learn, I realized I had also role-modeled that drinking was an integral part of my social life.  This was not the message I wanted for my children.

The message I did want to impart is that drinking can be bad for your health, that moderation is important, and that you can have a good time without alcohol. When I go to parties now, I most often leave the alcohol behind.  If I have a hard day, I don't sigh and say I need a glass of wine - instead I ask my children if they want to go for a walk with me. If I decide to drink, it is one or two drinks over the course of an evening enjoyed with good food and good friends and my husband drives us home.  I believe this new insight and my new role modeling approach will help my kids gain a more balanced view of how alcohol can be enjoyed without being the focal point of a social life."

We have a lot of influence on our children and we are in a position to leave lasting healthy impressions on them. For more information contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744 or visit Ottawa Public Health.

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