But You and Dad Drink...
Jodi Dworkin, Associate Professor — Department of Family Social Science
Revised April 2016 by the author.
To talk with your kids about alcohol, you must have the information to answer their questions accurately, and provide them with practical advice on how to deal with the issues important to them. It is not enough just to tell your teen, “You better not drink!”
Remember, You Were a Teenager Once
It is important to try to understand what it is like to be a teenager today. Recent studies show that approximately 75 percent of high school students have tried alcohol, and over 25 percent of high school students are binge drinkers. While this might increase the fears you have of what your teens might get into, it also increases the fears teens have and the social pressure they face.
Model Healthy Choices
Teens learn what it means to be a person who drinks by watching you. If you drink when you’re upset, your teen will learn that drinking is a way to solve problems. If you push people to drink after they say no, tease people who don’t drink, or center your activities around alcohol, your teen will learn that drinking is the way to fit in and have fun. If you drink and drive, your teen will learn that this is an okay risk. The best way to prevent your teen from engaging in risky behaviors is to model healthy choices.
If someone in your family has a problem with alcohol, don’t try to hide it from your teen. Teens know when there is a problem, and they may feel responsible for the alcoholic's drinking. Services like Al-Anon and Alateen can help.
Use Your Own Experiences
Use your own experiences and mistakes to offer advice to your teen, not to lecture them. They already know you are not perfect. Teens are able to recognize a contradiction when you yell at them for doing the same things you once did. Be honest, and your child will respect you more, no matter what you did when you were their age.
Here are some more tips for talking with your teenager about alcohol.
- Find the facts. Check out the books and websites listed below for more information, and answer your teen’s questions about alcohol as soon as possible.
- Listen carefully to their concerns and feelings, and respect their views.
- Let your teen know it’s okay to act independently from the group and to say, “No, I don’t drink.”
- Establish a clear family position on alcohol use. For example, “Once you’re 21, it is okay to have a drink with friends. It is not okay to drink to solve problems.”
- Behave in a way that is consistent with your family rules. How do you use and talk about alcohol in front of your kids? Kids learn by watching you.
“Just Say No” Isn’t Good Enough
Telling your teenagers to just say no isn’t going to be enough to prevent them from drinking when all their friends are drinking, playing drinking games, having fun, and offering them drinks. Practice how to say no in different situations with your teens. Give your teenagers options for saying no and let them choose which they feel the most comfortable using.
Here are some alternatives to “just say no.”
- Saying, “I just don’t want to.”
- Suggesting another activity like basketball, shopping, or going out to eat, or change the subject.
- Avoiding situations where there might be drinking or hanging out with friends who don’t drink.
- Using you as an excuse. Tell them it is okay to say things like “My mom won’t let me go,” or “My dad would kill me if he ever caught me drinking.”
- Going to a party and not drinking or pretending to drink.
Here are some of the warning signs of alcohol abuse.
- Using alcohol on a regular basis.
- Drinking alone.
- Depression or mood swings.
- Hangovers, bad breath, and/or bloodshot eyes.
- Talking about alcohol frequently and in a positive way.
- Problems with school.
- Taking risks, such as driving after drinking
If you suspect your teen has a problem with alcohol, you can contact your physician, school counselor, an independent drug counselor, or the resources listed below to get help for your teen and your family.
Fletcher, A. C., Steinberg, L., & Williams-Wheeler, M. (2004). Parental influences on adolescent problem behavior: Revisiting Stattin and Kerr. Child Development, 75, 781-796.
Nash, S. G., McQueen, A., & Bray, J. H. (2005). Pathways to adolescent alcohol use: Family environment, peer influence, and parental expectations. Journal of Adolescent Health, 37, 19-28.
Schaefer, C. E., & DiGeronimo, T. F. (1999). How to talk to teens about really important things: Specific questions and answers and useful things to say. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
Steinberg, L. (2011). You and your adolescent: The essential guide for ages 10–25. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.Walsh, D. (2014). Why do they act that way? A survival guide to the adolescent brain for you and your teen. New York: Atria Paperback.
ParentFurther — Search Institute — A website to help families strengthen relationships through shared activities.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Guided by their mission to lead the nation’s research efforts on alcohol use and abuse, NIAAA supports research conducted within the Institute, as well as in institutions around the world. Alcohol & Your Health provides research-based information on drinking and its impact.
Stop Underage Drinking — Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking — This federal committee is working with governments and organizations at the state, territory, and local levels to reduce and prevent underage drinking and its consequences.