The Family Campaign

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Reduce the Risk

Protective Factors in Preventing Underage Drinking

As a parent, you may not have eyes on your teen 24-7, but you still can help keep them safe.


Research confirms there are protective factors that reduce teens’ chances of underage drinking. Learn how you can help reduce your child’s risk of underage drinking.

Alcohol-Specific Rule Setting

While children are under your roof, they need to follow your household rules. These rules vary from family to family, but guidelines are imperative, such as a no underage drinking rule. Not only does this rule comply with the law; it also discourages your teen from drinking and sets your expectations.

Set a zero-tolerance alcohol policy with your teen. They know that underage drinking is not allowed inside and outside of the home and that there are consequences if they break these rules. Clear expectations help foster an environment where rules are respected. Click here the resources below to help you set and enforce these expectations.

Parent-Child Relationship

Research shows that a strong parent-child bond can reduce teens’ risk of underage drinking. 


The reality is that every parent-child relationship is unique. If your relationship with your teen seems a bit rocky, don’t feel discouraged. You can still play an active role in their life and work to improve your rapport with your teen.

Many teens want to feel heard, so a parent’s willingness and ability to listen can go a long way. Listening is about two-way communication between you and your child. It doesn’t mean your child necessarily gets the last word. When you speak, be aware of your body language and tone of voice. A defensive tone or folded arms can show anger or a reluctance to listen


Be a present parent. Show up for your child when they need you and make sure they know that you care for them.

Parental Monitoring

Parental monitoring involves keeping tabs on your teen and having an idea of how and where they’re spending their time and who they may be spending it with. This parenting technique comes down to awareness, communication, concern, supervision, and tracking your teen’s behavior.


You are practicing parental monitoring every time that you ask where your teen is going, check what’s on their phone, or get to know the parents of your child’s friends.


Parental monitoring proves to be one of the most substantial protective factors against teen alcohol use. Research shows that parental monitoring can minimize underage alcohol use, improve teens’ ability to refuse alcohol, and improve family closeness.




De Witte, P., & Mitchell Jr., M. C. (Eds.) 2012. Underage Drinking: A Report on Drinking in the Second Decade of Life in Europe and North America. Presses universitaires de Louvain. Retrieved from

Hurley, E., Dietrich, T. & Rundle-Thiele, S. A systematic review of parent based programs to prevent or reduce alcohol consumption in adolescents. BMC Public Health 19, 1451 (2019).

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Our brains develop gradually into our mid-twenties. You can support your teen’s brain growth by sharing the risks of underage drinking.

Alcohol uniquely affects teens’ brains. Early and heavy alcohol use may harm the brain’s physical development.

Underage drinking may have harmful effects on myelination― a process that is vitally important to healthy central nervous system functioning. It can affect teens’ ability to build executive function skills, like planning, reasoning and decision-making.


• One study showed that heavy underage drinking might damage the brain’s frontal regions, affecting movement, language and thinking skills.

• In another study, the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for forming new memories, was noticeably smaller in youth who abuse alcohol than their nondrinking peers.

Source: National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking; Bonnie RJ, O’Connell ME, editors. Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 3, Consequences of Underage Drinking. Available from:

Why the Small Moments Matter. 

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Make the Small Moments Matter 

Finding Time to Discuss the Risks of Underage Drinking

Spending quality time with teens may feel like a hurdle at times. Chances are they or you may have a busy schedule. Even if this is the case in your household, you can still make the most of the brief interactions you have with your teen and encourage safe decision-making. 

Discussing the risks of underage drinking does not have to be a long conversation. Having brief and frequent chats about the risks and your expectations is often more effective.

Finding the Right Moments 

When discussing the risks and rules around underage drinking, try to keep it casual. Find those natural moments when you and your teen are together, and you have their attention.  

Here are possible occasions: 

  • At the beginning or end of the day, there’s something special about the chance to be the first or last person your teen talks to. 

  • When you are in the car or sitting next to your teen on the bus, you can use your commute to catch up and chat about not drinking. 

  • Whether family mealtime is mandatory or not, try to schedule time to eat with your teen and have a meaningful conversation.

Making the Most of the Moment 

If you do manage to have uninterrupted time with your teen, take advantage of every minute. 

Be straightforward, open, and honest with your teen. Share underage drinking risks that are grounded in research.


Even if the conversation gets tense, the good thing is that there is a destination. That may force you to push pause on the discussion and continue it another time. 

As you talk with your child, be aware of your delivery. This includes watching your tone and body language. Try to avoid an aggressive tone or crossed arms because this may imply that you aren’t in a place to listen. 

It’s also essential to make the conversation a two-way street. Allow your teen to ask questions or share their point of view.

What if My Teen Isn’t Receptive? 

If you find that these conversations about underage drinking don’t go over well with your teen,  don’t feel discouraged, and don’t stop talking about it. Frequent conversations help establish your expectations for your teen to decide not to drink while underage. 

There are other ways to promote your teen’s decisions not to drink. Research shows that staying involved in your teen’s life and monitoring their activities can have a positive impact.¹ 


Where can parents get more information? 

• SAMHSA’S “Talk. They Hear You.” : 

• CDC Parent Portal—Raising Healthy Teens:

• Partnership to End Addiction: 

Source: 1. Komro, K. A., & Toomey, T. L. (2002). Strategies to Prevent Underage Drinking. publications/arh26-1/5-14.htm.

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Your teen still needs you to champion their dreams. You can do this by sharing how underage drinking can affect their brain’s ability to think clearly and accomplish their goals.

How can you help your teen see the harmful impact of underage drinking on their goals?

  • Watch your delivery: When sharing the risks of alcohol with your child, the tone of your voice and the way you frame your message matters. Try to keep an encouraging tone, and keep the conversation positive.

  • Focus on the facts: Avoid opinions. Instead, find research that backs the risks of underage drinking, like how it can harm the developing brain.

  • Make the connection: Consider making a plan with your teen so they can see the steps they need to take to reach their dreams. Then talk about the impact alcohol could have on that plan.


Your teen’s goals are real, but so are the risks of underage drinking. 

Help your child believe both. Check out the following resources: 

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Ways to Discourage Your Teen from Underage Drinking

According to research, parental involvement in a teen’s life can affect their choice not to drink alcohol while underage. Although teenagers may seem self-sufficient, it’s still important for parents to play an active role in their life.


Parental involvement can include nurturance, monitoring, spending time together and parent-adolescent communication. These factors are important in a parent-child relationship. They may affect the influence parents have on their children.

Parental Nurturance

Parental nurturance comes down to emotional warmth and support. As a parent, you can show nurturance by speaking positively to your teen, encouraging their goals, and  validating their feelings.


A study revealed that this type of parenting affects an underage teen’s choice to drink. High parental nurturance is associated with delay in the initiation of alcohol use.


If your teen comes home in a bad mood because they did poorly on a test, don’t dismiss their feelings. Instead, you can reassure them that a test score doesn’t define their  aptitude and that you’re still proud of them.

Parental Monitoring

Parental monitoring includes the expectations parents have for their teen’s behavior, the actions parents take to keep track of their teen and the ways parents respond when their teen breaks the rules.


You are using parental monitoring when you ask your teen:

  • Where will you be?

  • Whom will you be with?

  • When will you be home?


You are also monitoring when you:

  • Check-in with your teen by phone, text or social media.

  • Get to know their friends and their parents.

  • Set and enforce rules for your teen’s behavior by clearly explaining the rules and consequences and following through when the rules are broken.


Research shows that teens whose parents use effective monitoring practices are less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, be physically aggressive or skip school.

Intentional Time Together

Parenting teens may be more critical and more difficult as they get older. Even if you or your teen have busy schedules, make time to spend with your teen and have conversations.


As your child gets older and likely experiences more freedom, they are also more likely to encounter situations where alcohol or other substances are present. That is why it is essential to prepare your teen for these situations and set clear expectations for your teen not to drink underage.


Get in the habit of talking with your teen daily, even if it is right before they head out to school or over a meal. When you normalize communication in your household, it is also easier to discuss the risks of underage drinking.

Good Communication

Good communication with your teen is as important as frequent communication. No parent communicates perfectly with their teen, but an effort to improve communication is vital. Strong communication starts with solid listening. To encourage your teen to hear you, be sure that you’re really listening to them.


Even when you and your teen don’t see eye-to-eye or their input doesn’t change your decisions, you can still give them room to speak. Don’t come to any conversation with a hidden agenda. Work on being open-minded and transparent.


1.De Witte, P., & Mitchell Jr., M. C. (Eds.) 2012. Underage Drinking: A Report on Drinking in the Second Decade of Life in Europe and North America. Presses universitaires de Louvain. Retrieved from

2. Brendgen M, Vitaro R, Tremblay RE, et al. Reactive and proactive aggression: Predictions to physical violence in different contexts and moderating effects of parental monitoring and caregiving behavior. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 2001;29(4):293–304.

3. Choquet M, Hassler C, Morin D, et al. Perceived parenting styles and tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use among French adolescents: gender and family structure differentials. Alcohol & Alcoholism 2008;43(1):73–80.

4. Cota-Robles S, Gamble W. Parent-adolescent processes and reduced risk for delinquency: the effect of gender for Mexican American adolescents. Youth & Society 2006;37(4):375–392.

5. Li X, Feigelman S, Stanton B. Perceived parental monitoring and health risk behaviors among urban low-income African-American children and adolescents. Journal of adolescent health 2000;27(1):43–48.

6. Markham CM, Lormand D, Gloppen KM, et al. Connectedness as a predictor of sexual and reproductive health outcomes for youth. Journal of Adolescent Health 2010;46(3 Suppl1):S23– S41.

7. Penn State. (2012, August 21). Time with parents is important for teens’ well-being. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 28, 2021 from


Here you will find the Substance Use Prevention Parent Campaign media. 


Check back every month for new materials, information, conversation starters, and other actionable ways to continue youth substance use prevention efforts.

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