How to Talk to Your Teen About Drinking
Drinking is one of “those topics” that parents need to talk about with their teens. Here’s some help navigating this potentially difficult conversation.
What’s potentially difficult? There are state laws and your house rules. Other parents (and therefore your teen’s friends) may have different rules about alcohol. Drinking is an activity where there is often intense peer pressure on teens. Also, teen drinking is usually paired with other behaviors like drug use, sex, and violence. (Your conversation might go in some unexpected directions.)
- State laws are a great place to start. They’re black and white. Make sure you know your state’s laws regarding alcohol, especially the laws regarding purchase, possession, and internal possession. (“Internal possession” means your teen may not have been found with alcohol on his or her person, but they had alcohol in them based on a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.) Laws can vary by state, especially when it comes to parents allowing a minor child to drink at their home or private property.
- Make sure your teen knows the legal consequences of their actions, especially driving under the influence.
- The Federal Trade Commission says the following: No state has an exception that permits anyone other than a family member to provide alcohol to a minor on private property. Translation: Party at a friend’s house whose parents provide or allow alcohol is always illegal.
- This is a good place to transition from your state’s laws to your house rules. Explain that there are many different opinions about alcohol. Your teen’s friends may have parents with different beliefs about drinking. That’s okay. What matters is the position you take as their parent and the actions you model regarding alcohol.
Parental postures vary regarding drinking for a variety of legitimate reasons.
- Have strong religious convictions against it.
- Were raised by an alcoholic parent.
- Struggled with alcohol when they were younger.
- Have a friend or family member who is destroying their life with alcohol.
- May be responsible, moderate drinkers.
You aren’t judging the family down the street. This is a time for you to talk to your teen about some important life principles. Personal responsibility. Self-control. Moderation and balance. Choosing, not just between right and wrong, but between better and best.
- To complete your due diligence as a parent, you have to address some typical teen behaviors regarding alcohol. Your goal isn’t to scare your teen but to definitely keep it real, give them facts, and leave an opening for further questions and future conversations.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) periodically release a Youth Risk and Behavior Survey (YRBS). Their latest is for 2019, and every parent should become familiar with it.
The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:
- 29% drank alcohol.
- 14% binge drank.
- 5% of drivers drove after drinking alcohol.
- 17% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
- In 2019, female high school students were more likely to drink alcohol and binge drink than male students.
Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:
- School problems, such as higher rates of absences or lower grades.
- Social problems.
- Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
- Physical and sexual violence.
- Increased risk of suicide and homicide.
- Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and other unintentional injuries.
- Misuse of other substances.
- Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
- If it isn’t already, plan on this being an ongoing conversation. Ask your teen questions (but don’t interrogate them) about alcohol use among their peers, and try not to freak out about the answers. Ask them about their opinions and experiences with alcohol. Listen, don’t lecture.
When you think of conversations with your teen, please view communication as a two-way street. Give them conversationally what you would like from them. What do you hope for when you talk with your teen about drinking… or drugs, or sex? You’re hoping for honesty, transparency, authenticity, and quality listening. Give that to your teen so they can return it.
Appropriately share things like:
- When I was your age, alcohol was a big/small part of my home…
- Kids at my school used to…
- My friends and I…
This might sound risky and counter-intuitive, but teens operate a little differently. They often meet you at your level of “realness.” They clam up when they feel you’re “fishing” to pull info from them. When they say, “Things are so different now from when you were my age,” agree with them. Your teen is right. (Two words: Social Media.) But you still have much wisdom and life experience to offer. Your “missteps” don’t give your teen “license,” but they do give you credibility. Your teen will probably offer information if you sincerely offer it yourself.
★ Cultivate a relationship with your teen where they know they are loved and can talk to you about anything, anytime. This means investing time outside of “big talks” like this one.
I’ve actually had these conversations with my kids. Realistically, I knew my teens wouldn’t always make the right decisions. I told each of them that if they were in a situation where they would be driving impaired or had to ride with someone who was impaired, they could call me at ANY TIME. I would get them wherever they were. No questions asked. The number one priority was their safety.
Some parents feel this gives implied permission to break the rules. I believe it’s an understanding that failure exists on a continuum. Your teen can’t learn life lessons if they lose their life. This is a serious topic and a tough one. You get to guide them. Good luck!
Underage Drinking | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System
Possession/Consumption/Internal Possession of Alcohol: About This Policy | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System
Alcohol Laws by State | FTC Consumer Information
Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019