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Elena Sonnino: Talk Early with your kids to inspire leadership

Back to school season is well underway around the country with students of all ages streaming back into classrooms for a new year of learning and experiences. As parents, we know that back to school means our children will be exposed to new perspectives, new adventures and new choices in and out of the classroom. We send our children off on their first day, on the bus, at kiss and ride, or in their own cars, hoping that the lessons we have taught, honest conversations we have shared and behaviors we have modeled, will serve as a strong foundation to guide their way.

The truth is that as a mom to a tween girl, the act of modeling behaviors and engaging in honest conversations is one of the most important parts of my parental job.  Our children carry the weight and wonder of friendships, hopes of success and hopes of fitting on their shoulders as they navigate new paths each day. What if we could help them walk a bit taller and stronger by inspiring leadership and action as well?

Our children are growing up in a world where distances matter less and less with increased virtual connectivity. We are preparing our children for more than just today, we are preparing them for a 21st century that will demand global skills and thinking, interdependence and cooperation- a world where their voices will matter. Voices that will make decisions about their own lifestyles but also public policy. There is nothing quite like seeing the face of your child when they realize that they have the potential, even at a young age, to impact change. It is one thing to see your child participate in making a difference, because you want them to, but it is entirely different when a cause becomes important to them personally.  I witnessed this transformation in my own daughter this past year, after returning from a lobbying day at Capitol Hill for Shot@Life, a movement to protect children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are most needed. 

All of a sudden, after years of talking about social good and giving back, my daughter evolved from a willing participant to a newly empowered voice, realizing that she too could have a role in advocating for global health issues. The change was inspiring and reminded me that it is never too early to start empowering our youth, because the sooner we start giving them the tools they need to inspire and lead, the sooner the habit will become second nature in their developing brains. 

The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility through its Ask, Listen, Learn: Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix program and #TalkEarly movement know the importance of starting young to develop healthy habits by modeling healthy choices and lifestyles to empower youth to make their own decisions to encourage kids to “say ‘YES’ to a healthy lifestyle and ‘NO’ to underage drinking.”  This back to school season, The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility along with two-time gold medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman, an Ask, Listen, Learn “Superstar," partnered with members of Congress nationwide for a new series of public service announcements to share positive messages for kids and parents, encouraging parents to start the conversation about underage drinking with their kids early and to have it often.

Public service announcements, like the daily messages we share over and over with our children about choosing healthy lifestyles, making good choices and using their voice, have a way of seeping into minds. I don’t know about you but I remember seeing all those public service announcements during the Saturday morning cartoons when we were kids, letting them go through one ear and out the other. Except that they didn’t go out the other ear, they got stuck in my brain, arming me for the day that I needed to make my own decisions.

My tween daughter has a mind of her own, and as in most mother daughter relationships I know that there are some messages that will be received selectively over the course of the years. With changing moods and temperaments, there is value in repeating myself through my words, my behavior and my actions because she is always watching, even if it seems like she is ignoring me. Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL), one of the Congressional partners in the Ask, Listen, Learn public service announcements, reminds us that “Sometimes parents may feel as if their kids are not listening to them but research says otherwise. The decisions our kids make today will set them on a course for the rest of their lives. I’m working to encourage parents to talk to their kids about alcohol and urge kids to make healthy decisions for a brighter future.”

Whether we are engaging in #TalkEarly conversations about the impact of underage drinking, encouraging our children to get involved in healthy activities after school like in the Ask, Listen, Learn announcements, or empowering our tweens to be leaders in thought and action, the more we say and do...the better, because at some point, if we have done more than just talk the talk, it will stick.  Talking early and talking often about making the decision to “say ‘YES’ to a healthy lifestyle and ‘NO’ to underage drinking”  and to inspire others as leaders is one way we can empower our children during this back to school season for a new year of experiences and choices. 

Elena Sonnino blogs at and is a blog ambassador for the #TalkEarly program. Read more from Elena here.

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