How to Talk to Your Teen About Drinking
If your kid is reaching the tweens and teens, it's time to talk about alcohol. Here are some easy ways to get the conversation started—no shaming or judgment involved.
As children begin to grow into tweens and teens, the worries and concerns of their parents tend to grow right along with them. Often, chief among those concerns is how to talk to their children about alcohol in a way that leaves them informed, educated and confident enough to make good choices—and to reach out for help if they ever find themselves in a dangerous situation. If you know it's time to talk to your tween or teen about alcohol, but aren't quite sure where to start, check out the tips below.
1. Start the conversation early
"The best way to talk about alcohol or drugs is to start having an open conversation about it way before they are old enough to even consider experimenting with them," says addiction medicine expert Dr. Indra Cidambi, founder of New Jersey's Center for Network Therapy. While most parents imagine alcohol use starting sometime in high school, the reality is that many young teens and tweens have already tried drinking by the time their parents begin talking to them about it. To ensure that parents start having conversations before alcohol becomes a part of a young person's life, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents start talking to kids about alcohol when they're around nine years old.
2. Ask what they think
One of the easiest and most natural ways to open a conversation about alcohol is to ask your child what they think about an alcohol related topic, such as why kids drink. When you really listen to what they have to say you'll get a window into their world, build trust and get a good understanding of what sort of topics you'll need to cover in your discussion.
3. Use real world moments to teach
"You don't have to set aside a time to talk to them," says Dr. Cidambi. "Leverage teachable moments as they present themselves. Observing excess drinking at parties, or exhibition of inappropriate behavior after alcohol consumption or even police stops on highways can be leveraged to continually educate kids about alcohol, its effects and consequences." Using real world moments to teach kids about alcohol, even from a young age, is also particularly helpful because it sets the stage for an on-going conversation about substance use rather than a one-off lecture that might not resonate with every situation your child will encounter.
4. Talk about peer pressure
Tweens and teens are at an age when they're working to establish their identity within a larger social context so any discussion of alcohol and substance use should occur with this in mind. Talk to teens about what sort of peer pressure situations they might encounter, brainstorm strategies for saying no together and make a plan for what to do if they're in a situation where they're feeling pressured to drink. Planning ahead, and considering the social consequences of choosing to drink or choosing not to drink will help teens feel more prepared when they find themselves in situations where alcohol is present. Remember, just because your kid hangs out with a good group of kids doesn't mean they are protected from peer pressure. "Good" kids drink too—data indicates that while 10 percent of parents believe their teens are drinking, in reality that number is closer to 52 percent.
5. Reassure them you'll always be there in an emergency
As important as it is to let you child know that you expect them to make the good choices you know they're capable of, it's also important to let them know you'll be there for them if they make a mistake and need your help. Whether it's going to a party where there's alcohol being served or making the choice to drink themselves, they need to know you'll be there with a ride home and a safe place to land. "If they know that they can turn to you without being judged, they are far more likely to do so," says Dr. Cidambi.