Have You Had “The Talk” With Your Middle-Schooler?

“Look Mom, I’m Jack Sparrow!”

A few years back, when my oldest was seven, he was enthralled with Captain Jack Sparrow and Pirates of the Caribbean. He dressed up in a black cape (does Jack Sparrow even wear a cape?) and brandished a sword left over from the previous Halloween.  He then grabbed an empty milk jug, lifted it to his lips and slurred his words, “I am Captain Jack Sparrow!”

jack rumAnd that sword figuratively pieced my heart for a moment. No, no, no.

Not only was he modeling Captain Jack’s pirate skills, he had taken in the plot-line that glorified rum, that rum was a wonderful drink Jack had to have; and it made him act funny.

One of my fears is that one of my children will become alcoholic.  I worry about this because of heredity. I meet women in meetings who have been sober 20 years yet their grown child still gets become an alcoholic or addict.  These women modeled sobriety for their kids and yet, it wasn’t enough.

Isn’t that a mother’s fear—that what we do won’t be enough? That our children will makes our mistakes no matter how much we try to shield them?

jack rum 3There is no way to know whether my child will become alcoholic or not. And most of us don’t have to worry about alcoholism because only about 10% of Americans suffer from it. But aside from the disease, there are plenty of negative consequences when teens and alcohol mix. There has got to be something I can do to stack the odds in his favor in case he does carry the predisposition.

I remember drinking for the first time at 14. This was pretty typical for a middle class high school teenager in the 80’s.  I over-drank on every occasion, never having the ability to pace myself or moderate. High school is when our children will be introduced to alcohol outside the home. Have we prepared them?

The strategy my husband and I have taken with him focuses on the negative implications of drunkenness. We want to instill in him a disdain for excessive drinking. Here I list the five things we incorporate into developing our children’s attitudes about alcohol. I see this “Talk” as more important than the sex talk, because alcohol kills.

The Talk:

1.       Use real life examples.

Remember, son, when Uncle Bobby was asleep during Michelle’s wedding, and Dad had to help carry him out to the car? Remember you had to sit in the hatchback because he took up the whole back seat? You’re old enough now to know the truth. He wasn’t “asleep.”  He was drunk.  And his body couldn’t take any more alcohol so it shut down on him, causing him to fall asleep at the table even before Michelle and Tom cut the cake.

2.   Use “humiliation” or “shame”.

Shame definitely has its purpose. In my opinion the purpose of shame is to establish social norms in order that deviating from them causes one to feel shame, which in a healthy heart sparks a desire to change.

Sweetheart, when you’re out in the world without me or your Dad, I know you understand that you’re supposed to behave with good manners and conduct yourself in ways worthy of our family name.  When people drink too much, they’re unable to control what they say or do. Alcohol affects the limbic system of the brain, the part of the brain that controls speech and actions. We would really be disappointed to hear you had embarrassed our family by getting drunk or drinking so much you behaved badly.  What you do is a direct reflection on our whole family. You know this, right?

3.       Use facts, the law, and statistics.

In 2008, 11,773 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (32%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. The scariest part of drinking, for me and your Dad is the fear that either you or your brother will get in the car with somebody who has been drinking. Under no circumstances are you ever to get in a car with somebody who has had even one alcoholic drink. If we find that you did, then you will face severe punishment and loss of privileges.

Alcohol is a powerful depressant drug that slows down thinking and reaction time, as well as other activity of the brain and spinal cord. It rapidly enters the bloodstream and circulates to all parts of the body within a few minutes. When it reaches the brain it knocks out control centers, causing intoxication. Even small amounts of alcohol can reduce coordination and slow reflexes.

Regardless of age, driving while intoxicated is illegal. You will be arrested, lose your driver license and be sent to jail.

4.       Use Scripture.

Grab the iPad and google “Catholic Bible verses about drunkenness.”

Honey, look at what God says about alcohol. Of course, drinking alcohol itself is not a sin. But like with a lot of things, when we use alcohol illegally (before age 21) or recklessly (by drinking too much) we break God’s laws.

I wrote to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one (1 Cor. 5:11).

Neither . . . thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

. . . envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21).

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

Our Catholic faith doesn’t condemn alcohol, wine, or drinking in moderation, but the Church does caution against excessive drinking. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air” (CCC 2290).

5.       Use reverse-psychology.

What is the one thing teens want? To be treated as adults.

I know, son that you are very mature for your age and you’re growing into such a fine young man. But some kids are not as responsible as you.  It may be up to you to take care of a friend who is drunk. You may have to be the responsible one to protect your classmates, the girls from doing things they will regret. If Madeline or Catherine drank excessively and you noticed a strange boy leading them into a dangerous situation, you may have to be the adult who stands up and protects them? Being a grown up means you are responsible. It is impossible to act responsibly when drunk. So be sure never to drink to excess.

So, moms, let’s be sure to have “The Talk” with our children. We can’t leave their understanding of alcohol to their friends or Hollywood.

A wonderful resource for us comes from Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). I typically like student initiated advice because it is more on target when discussing important matters with my children.  Click on this link for the “Opening Lifesaving Lines” brochure.


14 thoughts on “Have You Had “The Talk” With Your Middle-Schooler?

  1. Oh the fears of being a parent. I remember them well. Though I was afraid of different things, the fear of a parent is still the same. The main thing is to keep them busy, mine went to work as soon as they could at Pizza Hut and Sonic. They were active with friends and family and maintained good grades. You know what they are excellent adults and parents. Never turn their friends away from your home, because you know where yours are at. Sometimes I would have as many as 15-20 kids in my home. My parents did the same for us. Good post and I think you are doing a wonderful job! God Bless, SR

  2. I think you need a #6 because kids don’t always follow the guidelines we set up for them in these discussions. So for #6: if you do get drunk–even if you have only one drink–CALL ME and I’ll come pick you up. You’ll get in a lot less trouble that way, than you would if you crashed the car.

    Adolescents often see themselves as invincible, like accidents that kill people only happen to others–that would never happen to me–so you sometimes have to talk to them on that level, I think. Offer them options. If you don’t give them options, then when they succumb to peer pressure, they may choose to hide the truth from you.

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my Chelly Wood blog, Number 9. I cruised over here to return the favor and have been enjoying reading your posts!

  3. Pingback: Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival | Catholic Alcoholic

  4. I also think it’s important to make all these important talks–the sex and the alcohol/drugs and everything else we think is most important–not taboo topics until THE TALK. I did a series of interviews with people who really succeeded in raising kids who followed them on the sex topic and discovered that the common thread was that they never really sat down and had a formal “Talk.” It was just something that was always being referred to and talked about at age-appropriate levels. I would imagine this topic is very similar.

    • Very good point! And actually that’s truly how it’s worked for us too. We agreed on an overall “philosophy” and then bring it up naturally when opportunities present.

  5. This is great I come from a family of eleven siblings (four adopted. Three from Liberia Africa). I always enjoy reading post about families…

  6. Thanks for the wonderful post. While you focus on drinking, your sage advice has broader validity. Can I make a suggestion? Perhaps this might seem like mere semantics, but I wonder if “guilt” might be a good replacement for “shame.” To me, with my flaws, “guilt” is “I DID wrong” while “shame” is “I AM bad.” “Guilt” is the corrective nudge of the conscience while “shame” is the attitude that can drive me toward destructive behavior.
    Just a thought. And I am #3 of 6, a small Catholic family.
    Thanks again!

  7. You know I thought of that when I wrote it. I realize the word shame has those negative connotations. I probably should use the word guilt. It just seemed by letting the kids know the way the behave in the world can have consequences for our whole family and reputation, not that any of that really matters because we love our kids unconditionally even if they’re sent to prison and publicly shamed!! But maybe the better word is humiliate. Humiliate can be attached to and the result of a specific event or behavior whereas shame you’re right directs more the goodness or badness of the person. Great point thank you Number 3!!!!!!!

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