Friday, September 11, 2020

Small Talks: Wisconsin is Stepping up to Prevent Underage Drinking

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I am so grateful to be working with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services on this campaign focusing on underage drinking.  I am happy to be working with them because, as a teacher and as a mother, I know how crucial it is to have these difficult conversations with our children!

I have lived in Wisconsin all of my life.  While Wisconsin has been successful in reducing underage drinking, preventing youth and young adults under the age of 21 from using alcohol remains a challenge that affects all Wisconsin communities and families.   Growing up in Wisconsin, alcohol seems to have been part of our culture.  It seems to have been a staple at every family function that I can remember.  As an adult, I have carried on that tradition without even thinking about it!  Where there is a party, there's alcohol - it's an expectation that I often have taken for granted.  A side story that I don't often share is that I come from a family of recovering alcoholics.  This is something I rarely boast about, but it definitely has helped to shape me as a person and changed my views on alcohol throughout the years.  


Being a mother to four children has me constantly thinking and rethinking my daily life and attitude towards any "hot topic."  I try so hard to serve as an example to my own children.  I'll be honest and say I enjoy getting together with friends.  I enjoy having a drink every now and then.  But, I always keep in the back of my mind that I have eyes on me at all times.  We are all parents.  We are all learning.  Not a one of us is perfect, let's just be clear about that!  

If you didn't know, I'm a teacher as well as a blogger.  I went back into teaching four years ago after taking twelve years off to raise my children.  When I decided to go back, I got offered a job at a local middle school teaching sixth grade.   Let me start by saying that I LOVE it!  I never thought this age group would hit me in my feels, but it does!  I teach students who are so impressionable...it helps that I have children in the same age group because, well, I can relate and it helps me to be the "cool" teacher (is that even a thing?!??!)?  While I teach I am very aware that everything I say can and will have a big impression.  I hear so many students talk about what happens at homes (yes, students do this constantly and I know better than to judge because I'm sure that the stories that make their way to the classroom from my own children would cause me to blush!).  That being said, it has gotten me to thinking...I need to have an open and honest discussion with my children at home because I want them to have a healthy relationship with alcohol and all of their views!

The question then came down to...how on earth do I do this??!  How do I talk to my own children about something that I hold so close to my heart?  How do I work such a heavy topic into a conversation in a lighthearted, non-intimidating way?  How do I initiate this conversation knowing that my children might see me as a hypocrite...I mean, mom...you just had a glass (or two...) of wine last night, didn't you?

It's an overwhelming task and, for some reason, overwhelming tasks cause us to shut down and sweep it under the rug until another day.  As my children get older, I am beginning to realize that another day needs to happen now!  While "the talk" might be uncomfortable, "the talk" needs to happen sooner rather than later!  

I have had many small talks throughout the years with my children.  When I say small talks, I mean quick and honest bits of information worked in as often as possible in as many conversations as possible.  I mean...my daughter will start driving within the next year!  My youngest is 9...YIKES!  Where has the time gone????  I started having these small talks with my daughter when she was my youngest's age (9).  

This is why I was so honored to be chosen to work with them on the Small Talks campaign!

Rather than sitting down for one big, overwhelming talk when kids become teens, we should be having lots of little talks with them starting before they are exposed to alcohol – as young as 8 years old! Let's get real for a minute...how well did you listen to the adults in your life when they said don't do something? I know in my life I was told that we don't drink because we can't drink until we are 21. Here's the thing, the conversations need to be deeper than the surface, "It's illegal until you're 21!" or "Just say NO!" We need to be talking about alcohol and how it can impact brain development in kids and teens.  Childhood is a critical period of physical and emotional growth.


The questions for me always centered around where do I start so that my kids will listen???  

Some tips about having these Small Talks:
  • Have them early and often!  Waiting until you have time to sit down and have one big talk will be overwhelming for you and your kids.  
  • Be gracious with yourself.  It's okay to mess up!  Mistakes happen.  It's okay to start over...just keep trying!  
  • It’s normal to be nervous.  Talking to kids about serious topics can be intimidating. 
You don’t have to have all the answers, but having small talks can be easier when you’ve got a plan.  Having a successful small talk means asking questions, not giving a lecture.  Having many small talks means there’s always a next time. Kids keep changing -  it’s important to have many conversations about alcohol as they grow. 



Small talks can occur at any time and as often as possible.  Consider having a small talk while preparing dinner.  Maybe it's a small talk while browsing the sale racks at the store.  My favorite small moments happen in the car, while we are driving around town.  I happen to teach at the same school a couple of my children attend.  When we are on the way to school or on the way home, we have very many open conversations and small talks.  The great thing about our car rides is that these small talks come naturally and there's no pressure.  

Small Talks is a statewide campaign encouraging adults – especially parents and caregivers – to have short, casual conversations about the dangers of underage drinking with the children in their lives starting at age eight.  There is no right or wrong way to have a small talk. Having a lot of talks (even do-overs) is the point. Every attempt shows you care and are paying attention.  Small talks do not require much planning:  Just choose the alcohol-free moment that feels right to you. Small talks can happen while watching a TV show, over homework, while playing video games, at the store, while listening music, and while scanning social media. Help a child sort out what they hear from friends or see on TV before someone hands them a drink. 

Would you like more information so that you are better equipped for your small talks?  Check out SmallTalksWI.org for more underage drinking facts, tips, and so much more! 

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