Talking about Alcohol: The Role of Teachers

08/20/2015
By Ralph S. Blackman

It’s sometimes easy to lose track of time. One minute you’re assigning homework, the next you’re focused on teaching an important concept while managing your classroom.
It’s important to take your role as a teacher day by day. Seizing teachable moments and making sure with each instance you’re yielding the most impactful and positive experience. These teachable moments come in all shapes and we’re here to give you the tools to spot these moments and have the facts you need to have those tough conversations, especially about alcohol.
You’re not alone. Studies show parents are the biggest influence in their kid’s decision to drink or not drink alcohol. However, for teachers, parents and kids alike, beginning a conversation about alcohol can be awkward. Or scary. But like any other discussion, this one can start with a simple “hi”, “hello” or “how’s it going?”

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How do conversations about alcohol usually begin?
•    A discussion between you and your spouse about who will drive home after dinner with drinks? 
•    A warning to your teen as he heads out the door? 
•    How about a plan for getting home safely after a happy hour with co-workers?
These conversations happen every day, and a key ingredient should be “responsibility.”  That is why we inspire a lifetime of conversations around alcohol responsibility. It’s not a one-time thing. Since parents are the leading influence on their kids’ decision to drink or not to drink, these conversations must happen early and often, starting when your child is in elementary school, and continuing through middle school, high school, college, and beyond.
•    You know most kids don’t drink, right?
•    You know you can call me if your friends are drinking, right?
•    I’ll drive home tonight, honey, okay?
•    Let’s talk about the rules for using the family car, okay?
Why are these conversation starters important? Because when conversations around alcohol are up, underage drinking rates go down. Kids need to hear over and over that underage drinking is illegal. And that underage drinking and drunk driving is both illegal, dangerous and can impact not only them, but the lives of others sharing our roads.
For more advice for parents, visit http://asklistenlearn.org/parents/when-and-how-to-discuss-alcohol/ and conversation starter tips: http://asklistenlearn.org/parents/start-a-conversation/.
Declines in Underage Alcohol Consumption
According to the 2014 Monitoring the Future Study (MTF) underage alcohol consumption among the nation’s youth continued its long-term decline, with notable decreases in all alcohol consumption prevalence rates among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.  The survey data, which is an indicator of the success and progress made to eliminate underage consumption, reports consumption rates are the lowest levels since the early 1990s when tracking of this data began.
More specifically, from 2013 to 2014 statistical significant declines in underage drinking were recorded for 10th and 12th grade students reporting consuming alcohol in their lifetime, 10th graders reporting consuming alcohol in the past year and past month, and 8th and 12th graders who report they have engaged in binge drinking (5 or more drinks in a row in the last two weeks).
During this same period annual consumption rates continued to trend downward, declining 62% proportionally among 8th graders, 39% among 10th graders, and 23% among 12th graders.  One in five eighth grade students (21%), 44% of tenth graders, and 60% of twelfth graders report they consumed alcohol in the past year.

Age Matters
National research conducted by Responsibility.org, in partnership with Martin Block, of Block Research and Northwestern University, found that the average age parents begin conversations with their kids about alcohol is 9.7 years old. 
When speaking with children about alcohol, age matters. Age of the oldest child is a key variable in determining whether or not alcohol has been discussed. Households with teens are more likely to talk about the dangers of underage drinking, while families with tweens are more likely to talk about alcohol consumption on special occasions. In every case, discussions occur more frequently with teenage children. 
•    60 percent of parents with children only (6- to 9-year-olds) in their household have discussed alcohol with them. The conversations in these “kid only” families center on alcohol consumption being part of special occasions and for adults and tend not to cover danger and trouble concepts (e.g., dangers of drunk driving, getting into trouble, etc.)
•    81 percent of parents in tween only (10- to 12-year-olds) households report speaking with their children about alcohol. These “tween only” parents tend to focus their conversations on both concepts – dangers and trouble and for special occasions and for adults – when discussing underage drinking with their tweens.
•    90 percent of parents with teens only (13- to 17-year-olds) are talking with their teenagers about alcohol. Their conversations have transitioned from covering both concepts (dangers and trouble and for special occasions and for adults) to focusing in on danger and trouble concepts, specifically.
The data speaks for itself: 
•    Three out of four eighth graders report they have never consumed alcohol, (down from 70 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 2014), according to the Monitoring the Future Study. 
•    From 2003 to 2012 annual underage drinking among eighth graders (defined as past month consumption) declined 44 percent while conversationsabout underage drinking between parents and their kids increased 62 percent (Responsibilty.org Toluna Research, 2012).
The Role of Teachers
Parents take it upon themselves to start tough conversations with their kids at home – but, teachers, do you keep that conversation going in the classroom? What red flags do you look for to better understand what your students are going through, and what are the important things to remember at the beginning of the school year?
Here are some of the warning signs of an alcohol problem among adolescents and how to spot it at school:
•    Nothing matters attitude
•    School problems, like poor attendance, low grades and disciplinary issues
•    Family problems, like rebelling against family rules
•    Physical and emotional problems, like memory lapse, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, slurred speech
•    Mood changes, irritability and temper flare-ups
•    Friend problems, such as switching friends, or being secretive or defensive about friends
•    Alcohol presence, like smelling it, or finding it in their locker or backpack

If you have a student who exhibits any of these behaviors, talk to parents or guardians, refer to the student to a doctor or mental health professional.
Thank You for All You Do
Parents and teachers are vital to the chances of keeping underage drinking on the decline. I am the President & CEO of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, but more importantly, I’m the father of two. I remember vividly when I started this job, and the commitment to communities on starting the lifetime of conversations around alcohol. However, I even more vividly remember each conversation and moment with my own children. I try and block out the diaper changes. 

About the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org)
The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) is a national not-for-profit organization that leads the fight to eliminate drunk driving and underage drinking and is funded by the following distillers: Bacardi U.S.A., Inc.; Beam Suntory Inc.; Brown-Forman; Constellation Brands, Inc.; DIAGEO; Edrington; Hood River Distillers, Inc.; and Pernod Ricard USA. For more than 23 years, Responsibility.org has transformed countless lives through programs that bring individuals, families and communities together to guide a lifetime of conversations around alcohol responsibility and offering proven strategies to stop impaired driving. To learn more, please visit us at www.responsibility.org.

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Issue 18.3 | Winter/Spring 2017

Southeast Education Network

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