Developing open and trusting communication between you and your child is essential to help your teen avoid alcohol use. If your teen can talk openly with you there will be a greater chance of guiding him toward healthy decision-making.
For a printable copy of this information, see Talking with Your Teen.
Some ways to begin
- “What was the best thing that happened to you today?”
- “Who do you admire the most and why?”
- “Do kids at school talk about alcohol?”
- “What do you think about drinking? How do you think I feel about it?”
Encourage your child to talk about her interests.
- “What are you excited about this week?”
- “What do you like about school? What don’t you like about it?”
- “If you knew you couldn’t fail, what job would you choose?”
Listen without interruption. Your active listening paves the way for conversations about topics that concern you.
Give your teen a chance to teach you something new.
Ask open-ended questions. Avoid questions that have a simple "yes" or "no" answer.
- “What do you like best about yourself?”
- “What stresses you out?”
- “How do you deal with pressure?
Encourage your teen to tell you how he thinks and feels about the issue you're discussing.
Control your emotions. If you hear something you don't like, try to not respond with anger. Instead, take a few deep breaths and acknowledge your feelings in a constructive way.
Don't lecture or try to "score points" by showing how she is wrong.
If you show respect for your teen's viewpoint, he or she will be more likely to listen and respect yours.
Visit our Downloads section for tools and activities for opening a conversation.
Topics to CoverAs a parent, you already understand that your relationship with your teen can make a difference. The guidance you give strengthens the bond you have with your child and helps counter media messages that glamorize alcohol. It also gives your teenager the tools she will need to resist peer pressure to drink.
Still, finding the right words to say, and when to say them, can be tough. Here are some recommended examples of how to start talking with your teenager and what to say.
Alcohol in advertising and the media
Studies have shown that teens who understand how advertising and media messages work are less likely to be influenced by them. Here are some things you can discuss with your child:
- Alcohol companies sponsor popular sporting events because they offer a lot of publicity. Plus fans may associate an alcoholic beverage with their favorite sport or team.
- Alcoholic beverage companies use advertising with music, attractive people and fun situations to make you associate those things with their drinks.
- TV shows and movies may show people drinking excessively, but they don’t always show the consequences. Getting drunk can lead to more than a hangover. Talk about other risks including drunk driving and accidental injury. Discuss alcohol dependence and how regular alcohol abuse could hurt your teen.
Find out more about Teachable Media Moments.
Setting the rules
- "If you're at a party where kids are drinking, I want you to call me and I'll come pick you up."
- "I love you, and I want the best for you, so I don't want you to use alcohol."
- "I really want you to be healthy and safe. That's why I don't want you to use alcohol."
Avoid risky situations
- "It's never okay for you to ride in a car with someone who has been drinking. I will be proud if you ever find yourself in that situation and call me for help.”
- "I care enough about you to ask who you are going to be with and what you are going to do. I'm your parent and it's my job to keep you safe."
- "You know I love you, but I'm your parent not your friend."
- "I won't allow you to be in a place where kids are drinking. I'll help you come up with other ideas about what you and your friends can do for fun."
Enforce the rules
- "We've talked about how I feel about you using alcohol, and the consequences if you do. You have no (internet, telephone, car, visit to friends' houses, allowance, etc.) privileges for (time period)."
- "I'm glad you told me, but I'm disappointed that you tried alcohol. I don't want you to stop talking to me, and I'm proud of you for being open with me, but I don't want you to use alcohol again. Do you remember the consequences we agreed on? What would you do in my position and you wanted to keep your own child safe?”
- "I hate to see you suffer from the consequences, but this is much less than the suffering we would all go through if you were to get hurt or killed because of drinking. These consequences are important because they prove that we are serious about these rules and we expect you to obey them."
What is important is that the rules are clear and that there are reasonable consequences that get enforced. Those consequences are negotiable and should depend on the severity of the act and whether or not the child lied. Punishments that are too severe can be ineffective. Punishment for most rule violations, particularly first offenses, should not exceed three weeks because your child may lose sight of why she is being punished. As an alternative suggestion, consider having your child read and discuss articles on the effects of alcohol, take on extra household chores or perform community service.
Common ConversationsWhen speaking to teens about underage drinking, it’s important to remind yourself to stay calm, be rational, and don’t attack them personally.
Here are some common teen comments about underage drinking and some example responses you can keep in mind when having your own conversation.
“But everyone does it.”
Response: It doesn’t matter—I still don’t want you to drink. You are an individual and you don’t have to do everything your friends do.
“But you drink!”
Response: It’s different because I am an adult. It’s illegal for anyone under 21 to drink alcohol and I don’t want you breaking the law. You could lose your driver’s license, and the people you’re drinking with can get violent and dangerous. You don’t want your friends to get hurt and I don’t want anything to happen to you.
“What if I’m at a party where people are drinking?”
Response: I want you to leave. You can always invite your friends back to our house for some pizza and movies. You don’t want your friends to get punished for breaking any rules, either. Call and we can pick you up.
“You drank when you were in high school.”
Response: That doesn’t mean you have permission to drink. What I did then is different than what I’m doing now. I know more now and I’m a parent. I love you and I really don’t want you to drink alcohol until you are 21 years old. That’s what’s best for you and that’s what I want.
“What’s the big deal?”
Response: The big deal is that I’m worried about you. It’s my job to protect you from things that can hurt you, even if you don’t agree with me. Underage drinking is dangerous for your health and your future and I want you to hold off drinking until you are 21.
“Just leave me alone!”
Response: I can’t. Even if it makes you angry, I have to say something. I just want the best for you and drinking will only get in the way of that. I will always be here for you.
Points to Remember
- Be clear that you disapprove of underage drinking and expect your child to delay alcohol use until he is 21.
- Remind your child that once she is old enough, she should only drink in moderation.
- Every family has rules, and one of yours is that there is no underage drinking.
- Even though it seems like “everyone’s doing it,” underage drinking is still illegal and shouldn’t be done.
- Underage drinking can put your child’s life in danger. You don’t want anything bad to happen to your child or his friends. Imagine how terrible that would feel.
- Underage drinking can make life a lot harder and ruin your child’s chances to participate in school sports, graduate, go to college, get a job and keep her driver’s license.
- Remind your child that you are there to support him. If he has a question or needs help, you will always be there.
- Underage drinking can sometimes be used as an escape from other problems like stress or problems at school. Ask your child if there is anything she feels she is struggling with.