Talking With Your Teen

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

Encourage conversation.

Encourage your child to talk about her interests.

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.

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.

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Topics to Cover

As 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:

Find out more about Teachable Media Moments.

Setting the rules

Avoid risky situations

Enforce the rules

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.

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Common Conversations

When 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.

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Points to Remember

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Conversation Jar

Use this unique activity around meal and family time to help get the conversation going. Good communication is vital during the teen years, and this activity is a fun way to get to know each other even better.

Download instructions for making your own Conversation Jar

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