By Pastor Sara Yotter, Pastor of Joy Reigns Lutheran Church in Edgewater, MD and South County Bridges Prevention Coalition Member

Do you remember the Saturday Night Live Skits with the drunk uncle? Drunk Uncle was a recurring character on Saturday Night Live played by Bobby Moynihan on Weekend Update. Each skit featured a rambling monologue and the commonality of experience made the character so successful. Unfortunately, we all laughed because we could relate. Opportunities for prevention conversations can arise often during the holiday season when our children see and spend more time with extended family members and friends that may have substance misuse issues.

According to SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Research suggests that one of the most important factors in healthy child development is a strong, open relationship with a parent. It is important to start talking to your children about alcohol and other drugs before peer pressure begins – as early as age 9.

1. Show you are paying attention to risky behavior at any age and disapprove.

Over 80 percent of young people ages 10–18 say their parents are the leading influence on their decision whether to drink. Send a clear and strong message that you disapprove of substance misuse at any age and especially underage drinking and use or misuse of other drugs.

2. Be open to their questions.

Children may ask, Why did Drunk Uncle fall down the stairs? What smelled funny in my cousin’s room? Why was Auntie taking medication that didn’t have her name on the bottle? Use these questions as an opportunity to talk about the dangers of substance misuse especially at their young age while their brains are developing.

3. Build your child’s toolbox to avoiding drinking and drug use.

Now, when that topic is up, thanks to Drunk Uncle, take the opportunity to talk about peer pressure. Help them make a plan for what they would say when faced with a decision about alcohol or drugs such as texting a code word to a family member or practicing how they will say “no thanks”.

Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you got it right the first time. Likely the next time you gather with family, Drunk Uncle will give you another chance to bring it up again. Lots of little conversations is best anyway.