We have provided you a basic overview of information on the extent, dangers, and
warning signs of youth alcohol use. You can use this knowledge, along with the following tips
and guidelines, to improve your communication with your child, initiate a discussion about
alcohol and its dangers, establish rules and boundaries concerning alcohol and its presence
in your child’s life, and to adapt your own behavior and parenting practices to help keep your
child and the environment in which they life as safe and alcohol-free as possible.
Talk with your Teen about Alcohol
For many parents, bringing up the subject of alcohol is difficult. Your
teen may try to dodge the discussion, and you yourself may feel unsure
about how to proceed. To boost your chances for a productive
conversation, take some time to think through the issues you want to
discuss before you talk with your child. Also, think about how your child
might react and ways you might respond to your child’s questions and
feelings. Then choose a time to talk when both you and your child have
some “down time” and are feeling relaxed.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to cover everything at once. In fact,
you’re likely to have a greater impact on your child’s drinking by having
a number of talks about alcohol use throughout his or her adolescence.
Think of this discussion with your child as the first part of an ongoing
conversation. And remember—do make it a conversation, not a
|Teenagers whose |
parents talk to them
regularly about the
dangers of drugs are
42% less likely to use
drugs than those teens
whose parents don’t,
yet only 1 in 4 teens
report having these
Tips for talking to your kids
Listen. The key to effective communicating is being a good listener. With kids, it is important to make the time to listen to them, especially when they’re ready to talk; responding with “just a minute” or “not right now” only discourages them from opening up to you. When your kids want to talk, try to drop what you’re doing and devote your full attention to what they are saying.
Know what to say. You’ve listened and now you want to try to get the conversation going. Perhaps most important is finding your own words, times and places that are comfortable for you to talk.
Make time. Establishing regular “together time” with your child does a lot to encourage talking. It doesn’t have to be elaborate—taking a walk, going out for ice cream, or being together in the car when it’s just the two of you are all great opportunities to listen.
Remember, if your child isn’t in the habit of opening up with you, be patient.
Talk one on one. If you have more than one child, try to talk to each one separately, even when it’s about the same topic. Children of varied ages are often at different developmental levels and need different information, have different sensitivities and require different vocabularies.
Topics to discuss with your child
Your child’s views about alcohol
Ask your young teen what he or she knows about alcohol and what he or she thinks about
teen drinking. Ask your child why he or she thinks kids drink, and listen carefully. This
approach can help your child to feel heard and respected, and also serve as a natural “leadin” to discussing alcohol topics.
Important facts about alcohol
Although many kids believe they already know everything about alcohol, myths and misinformation abound.
Share these important facts:
- Alcohol is a powerful drug that slows down the body and mind. It impairs coordination, slows reaction time, and impairs vision, clear thinking, and judgment.
- Beer and wine are not “safer” than hard liquor. A 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor all contain the same amount of alcohol and have the same effects on the body and mind.
- On average, it takes 2 to 3 hours for a single drink to leave the body’s system. Nothing can speed up this process, including drinking coffee or taking a cold shower.
- People tend to be very bad at judging how seriously alcohol has affected them. Many individuals who drive after drinking think they can control a car—but cannot.
- Anyone can develop a serious alcohol problem.
How to Handle Peer Pressure
It’s not enough to tell your young teen that he or she should avoid alcohol—you also need to help your child figure out how. What can your daughter say when she goes to a party
and a friend offers her a beer? Or what should your son do if he finds himself in a home where kids are passing around a bottle of wine and parents are nowhere in sight? What should their response be if they are offered a ride home with an older friend who has been drinking? Brainstorm with your teen for ways that he or she might handle these and other difficult situations, and make clear how you are willing to support your child. An example: “If you find yourself at a home where kids are drinking, call me and I’ll pick you up—and there will be no scolding or punishment.” The more prepared your child is, the better able he or she will be to handle high-pressure situations that involve drinking.
Mom, Dad, Did you drink when you were a kid?
This is the question many parents dread—yet it is highly likely to come up in any family
discussion of alcohol. The reality is that many parents did drink before they were old enough to
legally do so. So how can one be honest with a child without sounding like a hypocrite who
advises, “Do as I say, not as I did”? This is a judgment call. If you believe that your drinking or
drug use history should not be part of the discussion, you can simply tell your child that you
choose not to share it. Another approach is to admit that you did do some drinking as a
teenager, but that it was a mistake—and give your teen an example of an embarrassing or
painful moment that occurred because of your drinking. This approach may help your child
better understand that youthful alcohol use does have negative consequences.
Keep your child away from alcohol
You can also help prevent your child from drinking by reducing their access and proximity to alcohol. Use the following suggestions:
- Keep your supply under lock and key. Notice fewer beers in the fridge? Liquor taste
watered-down? Half of ninth graders say they get alcohol from their parents or another adult. Keep your supply in a locked cabinet or beer in a separate locked refrigerator.
- Connect with other parents. Knowing the parents makes it easier to call and make sure that alcohol isn’t available, and that parties are supervised. You’re likely to find that these adults share your concerns.
- Teach your child to choose friends wisely, and know your child’s friends.
- Always be attuned to your child’s whereabouts…Know WHO your child hangs out with, WHAT they are doing, WHERE they will be, and WHEN they will be home. And, when it’s curfew time, be awake to greet them.
- Keep ‘em busy. Especially right after school, summer, weekends, and holidays. The “danger zone” for drug use is between 4 and 6 pm, when no one’s around. Arrange flexible time at work and try to be there after school when your child gets home. If your child will be with friends, ideally they have adult supervision—not just an older sibling. Bored teens are more likely to make risky choices. Talk to them—discover their passion and support it by enrolling them in training, sports, school or church activities, whatever keeps them active and engaged.
- Establish clear rules. Don’t leave your kids guessing. Tell them very clearly that you don’t want them drinking alcohol. Setting a firm no-drinking rule will help your child deal with peer and other pressures to drink. Here are some examples of rules that parenting experts recommend:
“If you’re at a party and see that drugs and alcohol are being used, the rule is to leave that party. Call me and I’ll come and get you.”
“I’ve been thinking lately that I’ve never actually told you this: I don’t want you to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or marijuana or try any other illegal drugs.”
“I love you and I want the best for you, so I don’t want you drinking.”
“The rule in our house is that kids don’t drink.”
Some parents even create formal contracts with their children stipulating that no drugs or alcohol will be used, along with predetermined consequences should the contract be violated by the youth.
- Spend more time together. Get involved, and stay involved, in your child’s life. Taking time for family and doing things that your child enjoys sends the most powerful message—you love your child and want to build a relationship. It makes setting limits and enforcing consequences less stressful.
Children learn attitudes about drinking from YOU
Children learn their attitudes about drinking from those around them, not only from their peers, but also from parents or other adults. Although there is scientific evidence that genetic factors play a role in how alcohol will affect your children if and when they drink, how they drink is probably more influenced by the attitude toward drinking of those they grow up around. Warning children about the dangers of drinking and substance abuse will have little effect if parents do not set a good example.
Types of Drinkers
The following is a list of “types” of adult drinkers and how these drinking patterns could influence children’s own views on alcohol consumption.
Stress Busters - If children see a parent come home from work and immediately grab a drink and hear them say, “I need a drink after my day today!” chances are they are going to see alcohol as a way of dealing with stress and with other emotions. It sends a message that alcohol can “relieve” problems of depression, anxiety, and even fear, and the child may someday say to themselves, “Boy, I need a drink after that test!”
Mood Enhancers - If a child sees a parent significantly change moods when they drink, going from a sullen or quiet mood to happiness or euphoria, the message is sent that drinking is the way to have fun. If the parent drinks to “loosen up” and have a good time, the child is probably likely to draw the conclusion that alcohol is a quick and easy way to adjust their moods.
Inappropriate Drinking - If children see adults drinking and breaking the law they are probably going to develop the attitude that it is “okay, unless you get caught.” If a child sees his parent drink at a gathering and then say, “I’m okay, I can drive” the message is sent that the law can be ignored and risk-taking is permissible.
Binge drinkers - If there is an adult in the household who regularly drinks to the point of getting drunk, the chances are the message the children are going to receive is that the reason you drink is to get drunk. If there is an alcoholic in the house, the only drinking pattern the children see is “alcoholic drinking.” They may not be alcoholics themselves, but they may drink “alcoholically’.
As a parent or caregiver, you play a vital role in influencing your child. You serve as a role model on the use of alcohol, control the availability of alcohol in your home, and help set your child’s expectations concerning drinking behaviors.
- Set a good example for your children regarding the use of alcohol.
- Talk to other parents about ways to send a consistent, clear message that underage drinking is not acceptable behavior or a “rite of passage.”
- Encourage your children to participate in supervised activities and events that are challenging, fun and alcohol-free.
- Make sure you’re at home for all your children’s parties and be sure those parties are alcohol-free.