The Family Campaign
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Having Open Conversations About Alcohol With Your Teen.
It is not uncommon for parents to feel a burden when it comes to discussing the risks of alcohol with their kids. If you are feeling your own hesitations and concerns, know that you are not alone.
While this topic can feel challenging, it is a conversation that still needs to happen. Youth will hear about alcohol from someone, and it is best they hear about it from their parent or guardian. Not every family or child-parent dynamic is the same, but there are helpful pointers for every parent to keep in mind when having talks around underage drinking.
How to Approach the Conversation
When it comes to addressing the risks of alcohol with your teen, keep your conversations honest and straightforward. It may be easy to feel emotional about these subjects, but the most effective way to get the message across is to stick with the facts.
Share the truth with your teen. Your attitude towards alcohol also influences your child’s. Try to avoid making jokes about underage drinking or drunkenness. The consequences of underage drinking are serious and should not be downplayed through humor.
Another thing to keep in mind is when you have the conversation. Being in a comfortable setting and when both you and your teen are relaxed can help the conversation be natural and easy.
Frequent “short talks” tend to be more effective than one “big talk.” Continuing the dialogue in short increments helps youth better receive the message and demonstrates the importance of the subject.
You want the conversation to go both ways. Open the floor to your teenager and give them a voice to ask questions or share their feelings.
Not Talking About Alcohol Still Sends a Message
Parents can do their children a disservice by not discussing the risks of using alcohol and other substances. Teenagers are going to find out about alcohol one way or another. It is better for them to first discuss the subject and risks with a trusted adult who cares for them.
The Internet, social media, and other peers can send misinformation to teens; so be sure to fact check the information your child is receiving.
Creating a Strong Parent-Child Relationship
The best way to positively influence your teen’s behavior is by maintaining a strong and healthy relationship with them. Research confirms that teenagers are more likely to delay drinking when they feel they have a close, supportive tie with a parent or guardian.
There is no magic formula for forming this type of bond, but one of the best places to start is maintaining healthy communication. Healthy communication involves talking often and talking honestly.
Take advantage of opportunities to have real conversations about not drinking underage with your teens. At the end of the day, you want to be heard, and so does your teenager.
Source: Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol - Parents. (2019). https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/make-a-difference-child-alcohol
You taught your child how to cross the street safely. They may no longer need to hold your hand, but they still need your support. Help your teen see the risks of underage drinking.
Not only is it important to discuss these risks, but it’s also important to set a good example when it comes to alcohol. Make sure you are helping to send positive signals to your teenager:
Show that adults can enjoy themselves without alcohol.
Don’t drink and drive.
Offer non-alcoholic drinks when you entertain.
Limit how much and how often you drink.
Don’t glorify people who drink excessively.
If you have people over, be sure the focus isn’t alcohol.
Why the Small Moments Matter.
Never underestimate the impact of brief interactions with your teenager.
While they may seem insignificant at the time, those small moments may be influencing your child more than you realize at the time or on the surface.
Try using these interactions to build your child up and promote a life free of underage-drinking.
Possible Moments to Discuss the Risks of Underage Drinking
Rather than discussing the risk of alcohol with your teen over one extensive conversation, try having frequent, small talks. Have the discussions during appropriate times when you both are together.
Consider taking advantage of the moments where it’s just you and your teen…maybe in the car on the way to practice, or when you’re saying goodnight before bedtime.
Regardless of when you have the talks, make sure that you and your teen are in a good headspace to discuss the subject.
Any Time is Better Than No Time
While you may desire quality time with your teenager, the reality is that this may not play out as you would like. It can be difficult to designate time to spend with your teenager due to both of your busy lives. If this is the case, don’t feel defeated.
Instead of spending your energy wishing you had more quality time with your teen, be intentional with any time that you do have with them- even if it’s five minutes before they head off to school.
These small windows of time still matter. Try and see them as opportunities to be fully present for your child. Whenever they are around, stay off your phone, provide them your full attention, and be available to really listen.
Celebrate and Show Up
As a parent, you have the opportunity to be your child’s biggest cheerleader. While they may not always receive your support the way that you’d like, don’t stop encouraging and rooting them on.
One of the best ways you can show your support is by celebrating and embracing the good in your teen’s life. Show your enthusiasm for the positive things they care about and the accomplishments they make.
Even during the ‘in-between’ or challenges, continue being available for your child. Through difficult moments, offer your encouragement and support. Remind your teen that they are more than their mistakes and that their future is bright.
Discuss the health and safety risks of drinking alcohol underage.
Try having short and frequent talks about the specific dangers of alcohol.
Alcohol impairs judgment. Underage drinking can lead to poor decisions about engaging in risky behaviors that put one’s self and others at risk.
Teen brains are more vulnerable to alcohol. Research shows that the teen brain doesn’t fully develop until 25. Alcohol can alter this development, potentially affecting brain structure and function.
Underage drinking increases the risk of alcohol problems later in life. Research shows that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
Source: Partnership for Drug-Free Kids www.drugfree.org
You’re Not Alone in Preventing Your Child From Drinking.
Approaching the topic of alcohol with children is a familiar challenge for many parents. Often, parents or guardians can feel a significant pressure to keep their adolescent from underage drinking.
While parents play an important role in alcohol prevention, they are not alone. Their efforts can be more successful when they take advantage of additional support and resources.
Have Conversations with Other Parents
Sometimes the best reminder is that you are not alone in your concerns or struggles. You will quickly find this out talking with other parents who have relatable feelings and experiences.
If you are looking for guidance or advice for handling a situation with your teenager, try talking to a parent who has already been there. Learn from their experiences. Hear what worked and what didn’t.
Getting to know the parents of your teenager’s friends is also a smart strategy. This is a helpful way to keep better tabs on your child. You will most likely also find that you are not alone in preventing your child from underage drinking. Many parents share this concern.
Join A Local Coalition
Many communities support that focus on alcohol and other substance use prevention efforts. Consider researching to see if this is an option in your area. Becoming a part of this type of community group provides an opportunity to converse with others who have similar goals, become more knowledgeable, and gain prevention strategies.
Find out more about our communities coalition on our resource page.
Work with Your Child’s School
Learn what your student’s school is already doing to prevent underage drinking.
Think about joining the school’s parent council to stay updated with school policies or provide your own input into future guidelines.
Being involved in your student’s school also opens the door to directly connecting with other parents and administrators.
You can find out what your child's school is doing throughout this website, from the "Student Media" page to the "Resource" page.