Teaching kids about alcohol safety can feel as uncomfortable as explaining “the birds and the bees.” But it’s never too early to start the conversation, considering most teens happen upon booze before leaving the nest. Parents can take the first step towards guiding their teens away from alcohol abuse by following these suggestions.
1) Learn the Teen’s Views: Before explaining their stance on underaged drinking, parents may ask their children why they think teens drink, then listen patiently and without judgement. This not only allows children to feel respected, but helps parents pinpoint misconceptions they might have learned on the topic.
2) Discuss the Dangers of Drinking: Without condescension, parents should discuss the potential hazards of alcohol with their kids. By impairing judgment and disrupting physical function, alcohol misuse opens the door to a few obvious dangers, such as fatal accidents, addiction, and risky decisions (for more pointers, visit our post on what teens should know about alcohol). Plus, many teens find the social consequences of drinking equally (if not more) notable. For example, over-drinking could cause teens to be late for sports practice or embarrass themselves in front of friends. (Interested parents can likely recall alcohol-related horror stories from younger days.)
3) Set Rules: Parents should also communicate their expectations about alcohol use ahead of time—as well as consequences for breaking the rules. Some teens claim it should be okay for them to drink, especially if a friend’s parents allow their own kids to do so. Nevertheless, we encourage parents to stand their ground: it doesn’t matter what teens or their parents think, youth are legally restricted from drinking in the United States. Although children may not agree, parents should make sure they understand their concerns and let them know they have their best interests at heart.
4) Strike a Conversation, Not a Lecture: It always helps for parents to remain compassionate and understanding. Many remind their teens that they know how rough high school can be, but that alcohol is an unhealthy way to cope with problems. That way, children are more likely to believe parents know what they’re talking about.
5) Brainstorm Ways to Handle Peer Pressure: Some parents run through common, alcohol-related scenarios with their teens and brainstorm ways they might approach them. For instance, what should teens do when offered a beer or a ride from a drunk friend? Parents might also offer their support, like picking their children up—with assurance of no punishment—if they wind up in compromising situations.
6) Take Baby Steps: If you’re a parent, remember: you don’t have to tell your kids everything there is to know about healthy drinking habits in one fell swoop. It’ll be easier for you—and less daunting for them—to extend your advice into an ongoing conversation rather than a painstaking lecture.
7) Don’t Keep Addiction in the Family a Secret: When all of a parents’ relatives have a drinking problem, it’s best not to shove their tribulations under a rug. Addictions tend to run in families, so some kids have a higher risk of developing one from the get-go. Parents might let their kids know that, should they choose to drink as adults, it’s important for them to be mindful of their alcohol consumption. Until then, their best bet is to steer clear of booze altogether. Parents could also drive this point home by noting that drinking before the legal age increases the odds of developing an addiction later on.
8) Set a Positive Example: All kids give their parents attitude and resist advice from time to time. But when it comes right down to it, parents are still their number one role models. If parents want their kids to do as they say and as they do, they must show them what it means to drink responsibly. Instead of announcing that they “need a beer” after a rotten day, for instance, some parents can show their teens that there are healthier ways to cope with hardships. Also, by portraying booze in a funny or exciting light, parents run the risk of giving it a better reputation than it deserves. Even learning to drink in moderation can go a long way toward demonstrating.
9) Clarify Your Relationship with Alcohol: When all is said and done, some kids call their parents hypocrites for drinking at an early age or currently battling an addiction. If this happens, parents should try to stay calm and explain to that their recovery efforts have been for the whole family’s benefit—they’re working hard to improve their wellbeing and hope their kids will, too.
10) Restrict Easy Access: Sometimes the easiest way to keep teens from drinking is to simply limit their exposure to alcohol. Parents could go about this in several ways:
- Start by storing vodka bottles rather than leaving them in plain sight, as well as keeping track of any missing beer cans.
- Connect with other parents, who can keep closer tabs on their own kids. It doesn’t hurt, for example, to try giving other teens’ parents a call to verify that a chaperone will be present at a party they’re hosting.
- Ask your teen to check in with you and keep you posted when he or she is out with friends.
- Encourage your teen to engage in after-school activities. Kids are most likely to drink between 3PM and 6PM—after they get off from school but before their parents return home—so sports practice will keep them plenty occupied until you clock out from work.
11) Remain Supportive: Research shows that teens are more likely to delay drinking if they have close, secure ties with their parents. That said, it’s important for parents keep a close eye on their children’s moods and offer their guidance whenever possible. If parents think their children might be struggling, it never hurts to reach out—children sometimes learn to go to their parents for help instead of the bottle.
Giving children “the talk” not only provides them with information—similar to talk about sex, it lets them know parents are there to answer questions. However, this is just one of many discussions parents might find themselves having with their teens about alcohol. If you’re a parent who suspects your teen might be drinking, see our upcoming articles on how to recognize the warning signs—and how to confront a teen about alcohol misuse without starting all-out war.
Kimberly Nielsen writes about health issues, and has written for various scientific newspapers and blogs. She is currently studying biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and plans to pursue a graduate degree in Public Health.