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5 Ways to Teach Tweens to Say No to Underage Drinking

I’ll never forget the day that my 9 year old daughter asked me for a beer when we were at a ballgame. I could have been shocked that my elementary schooler tested me with such an outrageous question in public, but I turned it around into a teachable moment. Having the knowledge to provide a science-based answer allowed me to feel calm and confident to teach tweens to say no to underage drinking.

As a parent and teacher, I know there are many times when topics come up when we least expect them. Kids pick up on the things in their surroundings and test you, just like my daughter did at the ballgame. Classroom conversations go off on tangents, often reflecting real questions and concerns my middle schoolers have.

There are many conversations we need to have at home and in the classroom. The importance of staying substance-free falls in line with teaching our kids healthy behaviors. We talk to them about why it’s crucial to eat a well-rounded diet, engage in physical activity, and get a good night’s sleep. It’s also important to teach tweens to say no to underage drinking.

How to Teach Tweens to Say No to Underage Drinking

How to Teach Tweens to Say No to Underage Drinking

We can’t assume our tweens will stay substance free until they’re 21. They’re kids but yet they’re not. I hear from fellow parents and teachers that our kids are experimenting with alcohol at much younger ages and it’s concerning. It’s never too early to teach tweens to say no to underage drinking by letting them know how alcohol affects their growing brain and body.

Thinking about having a conversation with your child about alcohol can feel terrifying, especially if you don’t know where to start but Ask, Listen, Learn can help.

Ask, Listen, Learn is a free digital underage drinking prevention program for kids ages 9-13 (grades 4-7). It provides parents and educators with free conversation starters, lesson plans, and other resources designed to educate about alcohol’s effects on growing brains and bodies to reduce underage drinking.

Here’s a look at how you can use Ask, Listen, Learn resources and materials inside and outside the classroom to teach tweens to say no to underage drinking.

Anticipate the Questions Tweens May Have About Alcohol

Thinking about having a conversation with your child about alcohol can feel terrifying, especially if you don’t know where to start but Ask, Listen, Learn can help.

Even though you can’t predict which questions your child will ask about alcohol, Ask, Listen, Learn’s website can help you feel more prepared for when questions arise.

Their site features these 4 popular questions and possible answers parents can use. Click on this link to read responses to these 4 common questions:

  • Why is alcohol bad for me?
  • Grown-ups drink alcohol, why can’t I?
  • Just because you drink doesn’t mean you’re drunk, right?
  • Why isn’t alcohol illegal?

Read through the responses to each of the questions and think about how you might tweak the answers to fit your family situation, lifestyle, and personal choices. Breathe a sigh of relief that you’re more prepared to have this conversation with your tweens than you were 5 minutes ago!

Parents are the leading influence in a kid’s decision to drink or not to drink, yet they are not the only line of defense against underage drinking.

Have a Conversation

While conversations are happening at home, they should be occurring in the classroom too. We know students will have questions, so encourage them to ask them. As teachers and school staff, we need to be accessible and able to listen. Learn together about the best ways to communicate that keep the lines of communication open.

Information provided from Ask, Listen, Learn guides adults with ways to start communicating with kids about alcohol and the developing brain– and how to continue talking to them as part of a lifetime of conversations. The more conversations teachers can lead to teach tweens to say no to underage drinking, the better.

Ask, Listen, Learn recommends these following tips for discussions between teachers and students to keep the lines of communication open: 

  • Include developmentally appropriate topics
  • Focus on questions the child has
  • Use accurate information to talk with the child
  • Talk about healthy lifestyles and that underage drinking and healthy lifestyles don’t mix
  • Revisit the topic at another point in time, this should not be a one-time discussion
  • Empower students understand that they are in control of the healthy lifestyle choices that they make
  • Don’t simply use scare tactics, but rather focus on the positives of saying yes to a healthy lifestyle

Teachers and school staff are critical to conversations that teach tweens to say no to underage drinking. Visit Ways to Lead the Conversation for more suggestions for how teachers, school counselors, administrators, and other school staff can keep the lines of communication open with students. 

Teach the Science Behind How Alcohol Affects Growing Brains and Bodies

 Tweens are undergoing many changes. Since they’re fascinated by how emotional and physical changes affect the way their bodies and minds operate, capitalize on this! Ask, Listen, Learn’s free series on the developing brain provides tweens with plenty of information about how alcohol affects them physiologically.

The 7 free science and evidence-based lessons teach about the effect of alcohol on the developing brain. Classroom materials, resources, and videos help kids understand what the developing brain does, what alcohol does to it, and what that does to them.

To use the free Ask, Listen, Learn lessons, simply visit the website and click on Lessons in the upper right corner. From there, you’ll access the page where you can find all lesson plans and materials.

Clicking on the plus sign on the right-hand side shows you all the lesson plan, student materials, and associated resources for each of the lesson.

The video that accompanies each lesson can be played directly from the page or from the Ask, Listen, Learn YouTube Channel.

When on YouTube, lick on the Alcohol and the Developing Brain playlist to see all videos.

Lesson plan and video content are aligned to the following standards:

This practical knowledge from these lessons is learning students crave and is critical to teach tweens to say no to underage drinking.

This program overview video provides information teachers and homeschooling families need to implement lessons right away. You might see someone you recognize!

Reinforce Vocabulary Through Online Interactive Activities

From neurotransmitters to endocannabinoids, learning new words and definitions related to learning about how alcohol affects different parts of the brain takes time and practice. Ask, Listen, Learn launched Brain Word Searches and Brain Word Scrambles to reinforce the vocabulary learned in each lesson.

Brain Word Searches require students to find each vocabulary word learned in the lessons in the puzzle that accompanies it. 

This interactive search can be done completely online.

Students click and drag their mouse over a word to highlight it when they find it.

The sidebar keeps track of how many words have been found. Words are also crossed out from the word bank as students find them.

Both of these interactive activities test their developing brain vocabulary and knowledge. Understanding words helps increase knowledge about what the brain does, what alcohol does to it, and what it does to them.

Brain Word Scrambles are great to do as a check for understanding at the end of a lesson, following the video.

Click on any one of the hyperlinked scrambles following a lesson to be taken to a scramble associated with that lesson. Each word scramble features 6 vocabulary words.

Students click to put their cursor on one of the lines below a scrambled word and type the correct one.

They’ll know they got the word correct when the word tile turns green. On the right-hand side of a screen, there’s a running tally of the number of words unscrambled.

If they need a little assistance, there’s a purple button that says Show Solution on the right-hand side. Clicking it will make the correct word appear underneath.

Students can also click on Show Vocabulary for any word scramble and be taken to that lesson’s vocabulary sheet that can help them review.

The Word Searches and Scrambles are perfect to use in-person, virtually, self-paced or as a class-based activity. Challenge students to do them individually or in pairs. Just like the lessons, the extension activities can be used in a variety of different ways to meet the needs of your students as you teach tweens to say no to underage drinking.

Extend Learning with a Lesson on Marijuana and the Brain

Photo by David Gabrić on Unsplash

As a parent and a middle school teacher, I know tweens are trying cannabis. I’ve heard stories from my two teens about marijuana. They hear about it from other high schoolers and smell the smoke in public areas. I’ve smelled it in my own school’s hallways when stepping outside my computer lab.

Just like kids have questions about alcohol, they’re also wondering about cannabis. Marijuana is out there. We can’t ignore it just because it may feel like an uncomfortable conversation. It doesn’t have to be tough!

Ask, Listen, Learn’s alcohol and the brain videos teach how underage drinking affects different parts of your brain and the harm that can be done to growing bodies. Their Marijuana and Your Developing Brain lesson, materials, and resources follow the same science-based model to provide tweens with what they need to know.

By providing facts and knowledge about how marijuana affects the developing brain, we hope kids will make good decisions. Rather than spout off statistics, Ask, Listen, Learn has factual videos and printables that are perfect for educating curious tweens.

The How Marijuana Affects Your Developing Brain video can be used to follow up with questions they pose or to kick off your conversation.

Free printable vocabulary cards can be downloaded to help them understand the words they’re hearing. Vocabulary cards feature 16 definitions that include marijuana, cannabis, THC, CBD, vaporizer, endocannabinoid, endocannabinoid system, and more.

If you’re looking for resources as you prepare to talk about avoiding substance abuse with kids of any age, read my posts:

Visit the Ask, Listen, Learn website for more information, resources, lesson plans, and to sign up to get email updates.

I work as an Educational Programs Consultant for and am a member of their Educational Advisory Board. I am compensated for my role in both positions but was not paid to write this post. All opinions are my own.
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