Modeling responsible alcohol use for your child

“Role modeling is one of the most powerful tools you have in your parenting tool belt to influence the direction of your children’s character, whatever their age.”
—The Center for Parenting Education

Your kids keep an eye on you as much as you do them. Well into adulthood, they closely observe as you manage relationships, work, your health, and more. They note how you handle stress and whether you treat others with respect, show patience, act generously, and overall practice what you preach. And they tuck all of this away to use as they navigate their own lives.

Your use of alcohol is no different. As a parent, modeling appropriate alcohol consumption can be key to protecting your child from the risks associated with drinking underage.

Many parents believe that letting their children drink at home helps them develop an appropriate relationship with alcohol. Research suggests otherwise—that, in fact, adolescents who are allowed to drink at home drink more heavily outside of the home.1 Adolescents whose parents have specific rules against underage drinking and also drink responsibly themselves are less likely to drink heavily outside the home.2

How can you model responsible drinking as a parent? Here are some guidelines:

  • Limit your alcohol use in front of your child. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.
  • Don’t talk about drinking as a way to manage stress—for example, don’t say, “Today was terrible. I need a drink!” Instead, model healthier ways to manage stress, like exercising or talking things over with your partner.
  • Don’t romanticize drinking stories from your youth. If you choose to share that you drank as a teen, be sure to add that it was a mistake and give examples of negative experiences that resulted from it.
  • Never drive when you’re above the legal blood-alcohol limit or get into a vehicle with a driver who is impaired. Designate a sober driver if you plan to drink more than the legal limit for driving.
  • If hosting a party, provide alcohol-free alternatives and arrange for rides for guests who have been drinking.
  • Explain to your child why alcohol is for adults only. Let them know their brain will continue to develop well into their twenties, so a legal age of 21 helps protect their health.

Learn more about alcohol and your health at


1 van der Vorst, H.; Engels, R.C.; and Burk, W.J. Do parents and best friends influence the normative increase in adolescents’ alcohol use at home and outside the home? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 71(1):105–114, 2010.

2 van der Vorst, H.; Engels, R.C.; Meeus, W.; and Dekovic, M. The impact of alcohol-specific rules, parental norms about early drinking and parental alcohol use on adolescents’ drinking behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 47(12):1299–1306, 2006