By the age of eight years old, 1 in 3 children have tried alcohol; by the age of 12, that number increases to 2 in 3. The earlier you start talking to your child about using alcohol, the better chance they have of making good decisions. The window of time between 8 to 11 years old is when parents can have the greatest influence on their child’s attitude towards alcohol.

Teaching your child to avoid drinking alcohol isn’t about having “One Big Talk.” It’s actually better to have many shorter conversations, adding topics as they grow.

Teachable Moments

Think about times when you have a short conversation or ask questions about their attitudes toward alcohol, like when you’re:

  • Driving in the car
  • Eating dinner
  • Doing chores together
  • Doing an activity together. If you have something else to focus on, like playing a game, doing a puzzle, building something, it can lighten the conversation.

Build Upon Everyday Situations

When you see an advertisement for alcohol or see a TV show or movie where there’s alcohol use, you could ask:

  • Do you think drinking makes them look cool or popular? Are there things you feel pressured to do to be popular?

When you see local news, like kids getting suspended from school for alcohol use, you could ask:

  • Why do you think they were drinking? Has anyone offered you alcohol? How would you say NO to them? You know you can tell me if anyone is pressuring you to drink and I can help you figure out what to do.

During Holidays or Celebrations, you can ask:

  • Do you know it’s legal for adults to drink alcohol, but not for kids? Does it surprise you when you see adults drinking? How important do you think it is for adults to know when to stop drinking, or to know they shouldn’t drive if they’ve had too much to drink?

If There’s Alcoholism in the Family, you could ask:

  • How do you feel about our family member who has a drinking problem? What does it make you think about drinking alcohol? Are you aware that alcoholism is a disease that can run in families? Did you know that, the younger someone is when they start drinking, the more likely they are to have problems with alcohol when they get older?

Keep the Conversation Going

  • Ask them open-ended questions and how they feel about the subject.
  • Don’t talk down to your child or lecture them. Keep it positive.
  • Let them answer your questions–or ask questions–without interrupting them.
  • Stay Calm! Voice any concerns in a steady, constructive way.
  • Give your child good reasons why you don’t want them to drink. Then ask them if they can come up with reasons why they shouldn’t drink.
  • Tell them about the health risks from drinking.
  • Let them know your rules about underage drinking.
  • Tell them you know there will be pressure to drink, and they can talk to you about it.

This information was gathered from the PA Liquor Control Board (PLCB). Visit Know When Know How, a PLCB program, for more in-depth info.

Other helpful links:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration “Talk. They Hear You.” campaign provides pointers on how to have a conversation with your children about abstaining from using drugs and alcohol.

Commonwealth Prevention Alliance’s PAStart campaign contains information and resources on drug and alcohol prevention in youth.

Setting good examples is important when dealing with underage drinking. Children often view their parents as role models and pattern their behavior. Be clear in sending positive messages at a young age.

  • Explain to your teen that drinking alcohol is not an effective problem solving practice.
  • Don’t get intoxicated in front of your teen, use alcohol moderately.
  • If you are attending a gathering, where alcohol is being served and you are drinking, communicate to your teen that someone will drive them home safely.
  • Discuss with your teen better ways to handle stress, such as listening to music, exercise or talking with a friend.
  • Never drink and drive or get into a car with someone who has been drinking.
  • Don’t tell your kids stories about your own drinking in a way that conveys the message that alcohol is glamorous or funny.
  • If you are entertaining other adults, provide plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks. If anyone drinks too much, provide arrangements for them to get home safely.
  • Do not allow people underage to drink at your house.

This information was provided by the PA Liquor Control Board and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Helpful links for specific information:

Did You Know?

94% of Pennsylvania parents believe it’s their responsibility to talk to their kids about alcohol, but nearly half (48%) don’t feel confident in their ability to influence their kids’ decisions about using alcohol?

Engaging in conversation with your child about underage alcohol drinking is very important. Listening and allowing your child to ask questions is also essential in effective communication. Fostering open communication that allows your child to feel at ease, and will assist your child in developing healthy decision making skills.

Here are some tips to effectively listening to you child:

  • Encourage conversation. Encourage your child to talk about whatever interests him or her. Listen without interruption and give your child a chance to teach you something new. By actively listening to your child’s enthusiasms, you’re paving the way for conversations about topics that concern you.
  • Encourage your teen to tell you how he or she thinks and feels about the issue you’re discussing. Avoid questions that have a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
  • While listening to your child, control your emotions. If you hear something you don’t like, try not to respond with anger. Instead, take a few deep breaths and acknowledge your feelings in a constructive way. For example, a constructive response may be, “I appreciate that you are comfortable sharing your thoughts with me.”
  • Don’t lecture or try to “score points” on your teen by showing how he or she is wrong. If you show respect for your child’s viewpoint, he or she will be more likely to listen to and respect yours.
  • Encourage your teen to develop an effective way to say “NO” and provide feedback.
  • Listen to healthy alternatives that your teen is interested in and encourage your teen to take part.
  • Let your teen know they are being heard. Use active listening and reflect back what you are hearing.

This information was gathered from The National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, Partnership to End Addiction.

Check out these links for more information:

Listening: A Strong Parent-Child Relationship

Talking With Your Teen

How to Address Underage Drinking

Just when you think you’re doing a pretty good job as a parent, BAM! The sweet youngster who believes everything you say is suddenly a defiant teen who won’t listen to anything! This can be especially difficult when your teen is tempted by underage drinking.  How can you stay connected to your teen?  Start with a First Step:

  • Start by acknowledging that you’re not The Boss; you’re a Parent.  And if you want to open doors to family communication, remember that Over-reaction is a definite door-slammer.
  • Teens need to talk and, as parents, we want them to talk to us.  Listen with an open mind; let go of judgment.  Sometimes they just need to vent.
  • And they don’t always want our answers, which is good because we don’t always have them!  It’s our job to listen and guide them, helping them find their own solutions. 
  • Be someone they can trust.  Always.  We all know how it feels when someone betrays your trust; don’t do that to your child. But this doesn’t mean you must keep secrets, especially secrets that can harm them.  Talk with your child: “This is too big for us to handle alone; I think we need to tell . . . (other parent/adult, doctor, counselor, police).” When you say this, you show that you care and want to help, and you involve your child in the decision to seek further help.
  • Parent ACTIVELY…. You won’t react the same way to playground issues as prom issues, and neither will your child. Listening to the problem and asking questions puts you in Active Parent mode.  What if you overhear your teen’s conversations with friends and there’s a problem? Is it your “job” to save the day?
  • ….and APPROPRIATELY.  Don’t be the Superhero! In most situations, teens don’t need us to jump in and rescue them! When you and your kid are alone together, ask questions: “What do you want to do about this situation?  Is there anyone who can help you get this done? Will this solution hurt anyone?”

Remember: they’re not adults yet!  They need—and want—our guidance.  What you say and do now sets up a lifetime of good communication.  Keep the door open!

This information was compiled from pre-teen and teen parenting advice and resources.  Read on for more:

Aha! Parenting offers 30 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Teen and Staying Connected to Your Teen, and Psychology Today gives 10 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Adolescent

Partnership to End Addiction shows How to Listen and Get Through to Your Teen

All Pro Dad has 4 Proven Ways to Communicate with Your Kids

If you suspect or know that your teen is experimenting with or misusing drugs:

  • Talk to him or her. You can never intervene too early. Casual drug use can turn into excessive use or addiction and cause accidents, legal trouble and health problems.
  • Encourage honesty. Speak calmly and express that you are coming from a place of concern. Share specific details to back up your suspicion. Verify any claims he or she makes.
  • Focus on the behavior, not the person. Emphasize that drug use is dangerous but that doesn’t mean your teen is a bad person.
  • Check in regularly. Spend more time with your teen, know your teen’s whereabouts, and ask questions after he or she returns home.
  • Get professional help. If you think your teen is involved in significant drug use, contact a doctor, counselor or other health care provider for help.

It’s never too early to start talking to your teen about drug abuse. The conversations you have today can help your teen make healthy choices in the future.

This information was taken from Mayo Clinic, Tween and Teen Health.

Click these links for further reading:

Partnership to End Addiction: Is Substance Use Part of “Normal” Teen Behavior?

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): How to Tell if Your Child is Drinking Alcohol.

Psych Central: 5 Ways to Cope with Addiction as a Family

All Pro Dad: 8 Warning Signs Your Child is Headed for Trouble