How and when should you talk to your child about alcohol?
Talking to your child about alcohol doesn’t have to involve a formal conversation. In fact, other, more casual approaches may work better depending on your child’s temperament.
Keep in mind that your child will be more likely to engage if you really listen to them and come across as a trusted resource instead of as an authoritarian figure. Creating a family culture in which your child feels comfortable discussing anything and everything means they’ll be more likely to share information and ask for advice.1
Before you talk, review fact-based information about how alcohol can harm teens. Risk factors include lifelong memory and learning problems, alcohol dependence, injuries, sexual assault, and more. Obviously, you can choose to address the issues appropriate to your child’s age.
Here are some ideas:
- Talking while driving or on a walk can make a conversation feel lighter. Without constant eye contact, your child may feel less like they’re in the spotlight.
- Use teachable moments when you see alcohol-related headlines on social media or in the news about celebrities, sports figures, musicians, or community members. Explain the negative effects of alcohol misuse and the consequences these individuals may face because of it.
- Ask your child if their friends drink, or if they’ve ever been offered a drink. Your t(w)een may be more responsive to these less direct questions, giving you a sense of the peer pressure they’re facing and how to direct the conversation.
- Have your child list their goals—for extracurricular clubs and sports, grades, post-high school, and friendships—and then ask how using alcohol could derail these. If they were to be caught drinking, would they get kicked off the team? Suspended from school? What if they got hurt—or hurt a friend—because their judgment was impaired and they drove under the influence?
- Let your child know that you understand that middle and high school can be tough, then help them explore positive ways to manage stress and anxiety. Share that alcohol is actually a depressant, which can make them feel worse over time.
- Try not to overreact. Per Psychology Today, kids often test you to see if they can trust you to talk calmly about their concerns. So, for example, when your child tells you that a friend snuck alcohol into school, don’t stress out; instead, take a deep breath and listen. Ask open-ended questions like “What did you think?”… “What did the other kids do?” … “What happened to him?” …“Would you ever think that’s a good idea—why or why not?”
- You can’t control your child when they’re out of sight but you can help them become a person with good judgment—an especially helpful trait when they’re in situations where alcohol is present. Help guide them through scenarios such as:
- If you get to a party and people are drinking, what are your options?
- What would you do if your friend who drove you to the party started drinking?
- What could you say if someone offered you a drink and you didn’t want to look weird?
- Let your child know you’re always there for them, and urge them to call you to pick them up, day or night, if they feel uncomfortable in any situation. Promise to do so with no questions asked—and postpone any discussions about it until you can talk calmly and without judgment.
Experts recommend talking to your child about alcohol on a regular basis, and starting as early as eight years old. Find more ideas for talking about the subject on our Start Talking page.
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