How early is too early to have ‘the talk’ with your kids?

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There are certain things you have to face as your children start to grow out of their baby hands and faces. Things like a curious pre-teen starting to ask about alcohol and parties, and wondering what taking drugs might be like.

Knowing your child may soon be faced with choices you wish they didn’t have to make, and wanting them to be prepared, is really tough. Complicating matters is that as your children get older and savvier, they start to recognise more and more of what’s going on around them. Include your own behaviour.

Now, more than ever, you are their foremost role model. Everything you do, they are watching and judging. If you come home from work and immediately rush to pour yourself a glass of wine – you’re sending them a subconscious message. If you get carried away at a celebration and end up acting stupid? They are no longer tucked away in bed or safely with the babysitter – they are there watching you.

talking to kids about alcohol
“Now, more than ever, you are their foremost role model.” Image via iStock.

My daughter, 12, now asks me questions like why I like wine. She wants to know what it means when it says on the news there is an ice epidemic in Australia. She wants to know why adults she sees hanging around at train stations look weird and agitated. It’s really hard to explain all this to her sometimes.

I am acutely aware that this is a crucial age, and I want to influence her, before these questions become options actually being offered to her. Her opinions are being formed now, and I hope I can still have input as her values and ideas about herself are being established.

I’m happy to explain to my daughter that I enjoy a good Pinot Noir or a nice cold beer in summer – but that if I drink too much alcohol, I won’t feel good. We’ve had to start talking about how in high school, there might be friends of hers who think it’s a great idea to drink lots of alcohol to get drunk, and they’ll end up doing stupid things they might regret, including risky things like mixing sex with alcohol and possibly saying yes to recreational drugs.

talking to kids about alcohol
“I am acutely aware that this is a crucial age, and I want to influence her, before these questions become options actually being offered to her.” Image via iStock.

But I’m not quite ready to give her any practical advice and tips like drinking one water for every alcoholic drink or nominating one friend in the group to be the sober one to look after all her mates. I want to talk about these topics, but not normalise them to the extent that she feels these are rituals and experiences she has to go through.

I remember as a teen how strong the drive to fit in was; I thought that to take risks made you look cool. Now there’s social media ready to potentially document every bad decision, and drugs that weren’t around 20 years ago are cheap and freely available. Somehow, it feels like there’s a lot more at stake.

So at this age, I use techniques like referencing popular culture as a more comfortable way to discuss these issues: the celebrities she already looks up to, song lyrics which endlessly glamourise drinking and partying.

I let her know my opinions. I try not lecture or get too heavy, I just make comments here and there, and she seems to take that in. But I do wonder – should I be going deeper? Should I let her in to my own experiences as a teen and young adult? Or will she just take that as an endorsement to make stupid decisions? As I sure made a few…

What is the right age to really start talking about teenage issues such as sex, drugs and drinking with your child?