Teens and Drinking: How to Have the Talk

Did you drink when you were an underage teen? Even if you did, you might find that your views on it have changed since you became a parent to your own teenager.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, underage drinking is a major health concern. During the past 30 days, 1 in 3 teens drank some amount of alcohol, 1 in 5 binge-drank, 1 in 10 drove after drinking, and 1 in 5 rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

Startling statistics—so if you haven’t had “the talk” yet with your teen, now’s the time to get started.

How to Start
If you’ve been avoiding the talk because you’re not sure how to start, take your cue from popular culture. Whether you’re watching TV or a movie, reading a magazine/newspaper or driving past a billboard, you’re likely to see advertisements about alcohol or characters enjoying a drink or two. Take advantage of these everyday teachable moments to jump into the conversation.

What to Say
Pointing out examples of alcohol use and asking your teen, “So what do you think about that?” is a great opener. Open-ended questions that seek out your teen’s opinions and ideas makes it a true conversation, not just another parental lecture where their eyes glaze over. And while you’re talking, you have the opportunity to share your values and ideas too.

Young woman turning down alcohol in response to peer pressure

There are likely to be some tough conversations too, for example:

From teen to parent: “Mom/Dad, did you drink when you were a teen?”: The best response is to be open and honest. If the answer is yes, tell them, but also share why this was a mistake and include examples of poor judgment or negative situations that occurred in your own experience due to underage drinking.

From parent to teen: “Are you already drinking?”: It’s likely your teen may not want to answer this question. And you may have already had your suspicions. If the answer is yes, be careful about blowing your top. Remember, you want to make it easy for your teen to talk honestly with you. Talk to your teen about the kinds of situations that put pressure on him or her to drink, but be firm about what you expect about their behavior in regards to drinking.

Easy Strategies
Your teen should know your stance on underage drinking, but no teen wants to be the one saying, “I can’t because my mom or dad told me not to.” Here are some strategies you can offer:

  • Make sure your teen knows that if he or she is ever at a party or other situation where there is pressure for underage drinking, you’re just a call away and will pick them up, with no scolding or punishment.
  • Encourage them to hang out with friends who don’t drink. And as a parent, get to know your child’s friends and make sure they are healthy influences.
  • If they’re caught with a friend who’s driving drunk, again, make sure they know that they can call you for help, anytime. And make sure that they understand that drinking and driving—and not calling you—isn’t tolerated, ever.

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