Can you remember the first time you were exposed to alcohol? It probably wasn’t in a dark alley by a stranger in an overcoat or even behind the bleachers at a football game. For many of us, our first exposure was actually in the comfort of our own homes typically by a trusted adult. This adult may have been your aunt, uncle, family friend or even your mom and dad. Can you hear it now? The faint sound of glassware clashing, drowned out by laughter as they lift their glasses in the air and say cheers. Whether it’s at home, on the big screen, or even on social media, the messages surrounding alcohol can seem conflicting so it’s no surprise that the perception of harm for alcohol use among youth is low.1
Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States2. In fact, people aged 12 to 20 years consume 11% of all alcohol in the United States2. In addition, 90% of that alcohol is consumed by binge drinking which is the most common pattern of alcohol consumption among youth2. In 2016, the Monitoring the Future Survey reported that 7.3% of 8th graders and 33.2% of 12th graders drank during the past 30 days, and 3% of 8th graders and 16% of 12th graders binge drank during the past 2 weeks3. This is alarming because statistics prove that a person who begins drinking as a young teen is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who waits until adulthood to use alcohol2. Moreover, youth who drink alcohol are more likely to miss school, get lower grades, abstain from positive youth activities, engage in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex and are at a higher risk for suicide and homicide2. So, what can you do as a parent to delay your child’s first drink until the age of 21 and promote responsible drinking? Well, there’s no guarantee, but research does indicate that talking to your child about alcohol can help. Over 80% of young people age 10-18 say that their parents are the leading influence on whether or not they drink2. We know just how difficult discussing underage drinking or drug use can be with your child. For that reason, here are some guidelines developed by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids that can assist you as you take the first step in talking to your child. More information4.
- Choose a good time & place.
- Look for blocks of time to talk. After dinner, before bed, before school or on the way to or from school and extracurricular activities can work well.
- Take a walk or go for a drive together. With less eye contact, your teen won’t feel like he’s under a microscope.
- Approach your talk with openness, active listening & “I” statements.
- Use “I” statements to keep the flow going. “I” statements let you express yourself without your teenager feeling judged, blamed or attacked. You describe his behavior, how you feel about it and how it affects you.
- Understand your influence as a parent.
- Ask your child what might happen if he or she does use drugs or alcohol.
- Take advantage of “teachable moments.”
- Share stories. Stories of people in recovery and stories of those lost to drugs and alcohol can be powerful teaching tools.
- Offer empathy & support.
- Offer empathy and compassion. Let your child know you understand. The teen years can be tough. Acknowledge that everyone struggles sometimes, but drugs and alcohol are not a useful or healthy way to cope with problems. Let your child know that he/she can trust you.
- Remind your child that you are there for support and guidance – and that it’s important to you that she/he is healthy, happy and makes safe choices.
- Keep in mind your teen’s brain is still developing.
- The human brain doesn’t fully develop until about age 25. This helps to explains a lot about the way your teen communicates. For example, because the prefrontal cortex isn’t mature, your child may have a terrible time interpreting facial expressions. Once you learn to recognize typical teen behavior, you can control your automatic reactions to it and communicate more clearly.
- Typical teen behavior can trigger a lot of emotion in parents. Identifying the behavior you see in your teen can help you manage our own impulses; we avoid giving our teens control.
- Learn to spot typical teen behavior so you won’t over-react.
The bottom line is talk to your child. Your opinion matters and it should, after all, who is more invested in their wellbeing than you.
- Partnership for Drug Free Kids
- Center for Prevention and Counseling
- Kids Health
- Parents Empowered
- National Institute on Health
- The Medicine Abuse Project
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Conceptual Fit: Sample Risk Factors and Interventions for Underage Drinking. Retrieved on October 26, 2017 from
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fact Sheets- Underage Drinking. Retrieved on October 26, 2017 from
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH). Monitoring the Future 2016 Survey Results. Retrieved on October 31, 2017 from
- Partnership for Drug Free Kids. Preventing Teen Drug Use: How to Talk With Your Teen. Retrieved on October 26, 2017 from