You have most likely noticed a strong connection between St. Patrick’s Day and excessive consumption of alcohol. There is actually a historical reason for that. The day was first celebrated in honor of St. Patrick on the day of his death. March 17th always falls within the Christian observance of Lent, a time of fasting and abstinence. Christians are allowed to put aside their Lenten restrictions on food and alcohol consumption on this day — St. Patrick’s Day. Thus, excessive drinking has become permanently connected with the day.
A quick Google search of St. Patrick’s Day, Manchester, NH brought up a flood of banners from area bars and restaurants touting Guinness specials beginning as early as 5:30 a.m. in the Queen City. There’s even an automobile dealership with a page devoted to the best bars to celebrate the day.
Romanticizing, normalizing, and promoting the practice of alcohol misuse is not limited to March 17th. How can we, as individuals and communities who care for children, compete with these external factors: advertisements, TV shows, and movies that regularly glamorize and try to normalize smoking, vaping, and alcohol consumption? Talking with our children about substance use and misuse is just plain hard. It may make us uncomfortable, and sometimes forces us to look at our own behavior. Are we modeling what we want to? But having conversations is important, especially when youth are being routinely sent signals that it is OK or what is socially expected of them. And the data shows us that it is effective. We know it is important to youth to have boundaries set for them and for there to be expectations around their behavior. Kids who learn a lot about the risks of alcohol and other drugs at home are less likely to end up using.
It is never too early (or too late!) to begin talking about substance use with children. If you talk to children directly and honestly, they are more likely to respect your rules and advice about alcohol and other substance use. One of the most important factors in healthy child development is a strong, open relationship with a parent or another adult who cares for them. This is true from early childhood through adolescence and young adulthood. When parents and caregivers talk with their children early and often about drugging and drinking, they can protect their children from many of the high-risk behaviors associated with using these substances. Those behaviors may include skipping school, bad grades, risky sexual activity, and poor or impulsive decision-making. Continuing to talk as our children grow, become more independent, and encounter more complicated and potentially harmful situations is essential. Even when our children are of legal drinking age, talking about how their alcohol use impacts them can help prevent problematic substance use.
There is a national campaign called “Talk. They Hear You.” that has resources to help parents and caregivers start talking with their children early about the dangers of alcohol and other substances. The intent of the campaign is to reduce underage substance use. “Talk. They Hear You.” offers conversation assistance for talking with kids, a “What Parents Are Saying” podcast, parent app, and a lot more; like these five conversation goals:
- Show you disapprove of underage drinking and other drug misuse.
- Show you care about your child’s health, wellness, and success.
- Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol and other drugs.
- Show you’re paying attention and you’ll discourage risky behaviors.
- Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking and drug use.
Remember, children need and want boundaries. It is up to you to set those rules and begin the conversation in an open and positive way that doesn’t create conflict. Believe it or not, your kids do hear what you say. They probably won’t acknowledge it all the time, but what you say does make a difference. Find more information about preparing kids to make good decisions and resources in New Hampshire that can support positive parenting here.