How to Teach Your Teen About Alcohol
It may be uncomfortable to talk to your teen about alcohol, but it’s a conversation you absolutely should not skip.
“Surveys have shown over and over that parents are the number one influence on a child’s decision to not use alcohol,” says David Devries, coordinator for Nebraska’s Division of Behavioral Health. “Children are listening, and they are heavily influenced when parents communicate their expectations in relation to use of alcohol.”
You have the power to positively influence your teen’s behaviors and beliefs about alcohol. Here’s how to use that power effectively.
Before your child is even old enough for “the alcohol talk,” you can start by building a strong and trusting relationship.
Research shows teens are far likelier to delay drinking if they have a close and positive relationship with a parent or guardian. The opposite is true if the child-parent relationship is distant or conflict-filled.
This also helps your child become comfortable talking openly and honestly with you, which will be important as he enters his teen years.
Make It a Conversation
For best results, make this talk a true conversation, not just a lecture. Approach your child when you both have some free time and are feeling comfortable and relaxed.
Start by asking your child his own opinions on alcohol and drinking: What does he already know about it? What does he think about teen drinking? Why does he think kids drink?
Provide Logical Reasons Not to Drink
When you give your child reasons not to drink, try not to overexaggerate. Your teen is likely aware that many people drink without developing alcoholism or facing serious consequences.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), you should provide reasons such as:
- You expect your child to avoid alcohol. Your values and expectations likely matter to your child more than you realize.
- Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal, so it can lead to trouble with the law.
- Drinking can lead to embarrassing situations or events, which can alter your child’s reputation, self-respect, and relationships.
- Drinking impairs judgment and can be dangerous (drunk driving, increased risk of sexual assault and unprotected sex, etc.).
- While the brain is still maturing, drinking can lead to long-term intellectual effects and may increase the likelihood of becoming dependent on alcohol.
You can also share with your child if you have a family history of alcoholism.
Prepare Your Child for Peer Pressure
Help your child brainstorm ways to avoid situations in which he is offered alcohol or asked to get in a car with someone who has been drinking.
Provide your child with an “out.” For example, tell him that if he’s in a situation where kids are drinking, he can call you to come pick him up with no scolding or repercussions.
Lead by Example
If you’re going to drink in front of your child, do so only in moderation. A study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that teens who have seen their parents drunk are more than twice as likely as their peers to get drunk during an average month.
Another study by the NIAA found a link between parents exhibiting a favorable opinion of alcohol and children starting to drink as adolescents. Don’t tell your child that drinking helps you relax or is a nice way to take the edge off after a long day.
Don’t share humorous or “cool” stories of your own drinking. If you’re going to share an underage drinking story, explain that it was a mistake and highlight how it caused you harm or embarrassment.
Your teen is more likely to take conversations about alcohol seriously if you have set a positive example yourself.
Following these tips can help you effectively teach your teen about alcohol and influence him to make healthy decisions.