While parent-child conversations about drinking are essential, talking is not enough; you also need to take concrete action to help your child resist alcohol. Research strongly shows that active, supportive involvement by parents and guardians can help teens avoid underage drinking and prevent later alcohol abuse.
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 33% of children under the age of 15 have had at least one alcoholic drink. The message is clear: Young teens need plenty of adult supervision. Use the following tips to help your teen steer clear of alcohol.
- Monitor Alcohol Use in Your Home
- Connect With Other Parents
- Keep Track of Your Child’s Activities
- Develop Family Rules about Teen Drinking
- Set a Good Example
- Do Not Support Teen Drinking
- Help Your Child Build Healthy Friendships
- Encourage Healthy Alternatives to Alcohol
- Help is Here
Monitor Alcohol Use in Your Home
If you keep alcohol in your home, keep track of the supply. Make clear to your child that you do not allow unchaperoned parties or other teen gatherings in your home. If possible, encourage him or her to invite friends over when you are at home. The more entertaining your child does in your home, the more you will know about your child’s friends and activities.
Some ways to host a successful and alcohol-free teen party include:
- Agree on a guest list, and do not admit party crashers.
- Discuss ground rules with your child before the party.
- Encourage your teen to plan the party with a responsible friend so that he or she will have support if problems arise.
- Brainstorm fun activities for the party.
- If a guest brings alcohol into your house, confiscate the alcohol, and ask him or her to leave.
- Serve plenty of snacks and nonalcoholic drinks.
- Be visible and available, but do not join the party.
Connect With Other Parents
Getting to know other parents and guardians can help you keep closer tabs on your child. Friendly relations can make it easier for you to call the parent of a teen who is having a party to be sure that a responsible adult will be present and that alcohol will not be available. You are likely to find out that you’re not the only adult who wants to prevent teen alcohol use – many other parents share your concern.
You can also join school and community efforts to discourage alcohol use by teens. By working with school officials and other members of your community, you can help to develop policies to reduce alcohol availability to teens and to enforce consequences for underage drinking.
Keep Track of Your Child’s Activities
Be aware of your teen’s plans and whereabouts. Generally, your child will be more open to your supervision if he or she feels you are keeping tabs because you care, not because you distrust him or her.
Develop Family Rules about Teen Drinking
When parents establish clear “no alcohol” rules and expectations, their children are less likely to begin drinking. Each family should develop agreements about teen alcohol use that reflect their own beliefs and values. Some possible family rules about drinking are:
- Kids will not drink alcohol until they are 21.
- Older siblings will not encourage younger brothers or sisters to drink and will not give them alcohol.
- Kids will not stay at teen parties where alcohol is served.
- Kids will not ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
Once you have chosen rules for your family, you will need to establish appropriate consequences for breaking those rules. Be sure to choose a penalty that you are willing to carry out. Do not make the consequences so harsh that they become a barrier to open communication between you and your teen. The idea is to make the penalty “sting” just enough to make your child think twice about breaking the rule. A possible consequence might be temporary restrictions on your child’s socializing or driving privileges.
Finally, you must be prepared to consistently enforce the consequences you have established. If your children know that they will lose certain privileges each and every time an alcohol use rule is broken, they will be more likely to adhere to the agreement.
Set a Good Example
Parents and guardians are important role models for their children. Studies indicate that if a parent uses alcohol, his or her children are more likely to drink themselves. But even if you use alcohol, there may be ways to lessen the likelihood that your child will drink. Some suggestions:
- Use alcohol moderately.
- Do not communicate to your child that alcohol is a good way to handle problems. For example, avoid coming home from work and saying: “I had a rotten day. I need a drink.”
- Demonstrate that you have healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise; listening to music; or talking things over with a spouse, partner or friend.
- Do not tell your kids stories about your own drinking in a way that conveys the message that alcohol use is funny or glamorous.
- Never drink and drive or ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
- When you entertain other adults, be sure to serve some alcohol-free beverages and plenty of food. If anyone drinks too much at your party, make arrangements for them to get home safely.
Do Not Support Teen Drinking
Your attitude and behavior toward teen drinking also influence your child. Avoid making jokes about underage drinking or drunkenness, or otherwise showing acceptance of teen alcohol use.
In addition, never serve alcohol to your child’s underage friends. Research shows that kids whose parents or friends’ parents provide alcohol for teen parties are more likely to engage in heavier drinking, to drink more often and to get into traffic crashes. Remember, too, that it is illegal in most states to provide alcohol to minors who are not family members.
Help Your Child Build Healthy Friendships
If your child’s friends use alcohol, your child is more likely to drink, too. It makes sense to try to encourage your young teen to develop friendships with kids who do not drink and who are otherwise healthy influences on your child. A good first step is to simply get to know your child’s friends better. You can then invite the kids you feel good about to family get-togethers and outings and find other ways to encourage your child to spend time with those teens. Also, talk directly with your youngster about the qualities in a friend that really count, such as trustworthiness and kindness, rather than popularity or a “cool” style.
When you disapprove of one of your child’s friends, the situation can be tougher to handle. While it may be tempting to simply forbid your child to see that friend, such a move may make your child even more determined to hang out with him or her. Instead, you might try pointing out your reservations about the friend in a caring, supportive way. You can also limit your child’s time with that friend through your family rules, such as how after-school time can be spent or how late your child can stay out in the evening.
Encourage Healthy Alternatives to Alcohol
One reason kids drink is to beat boredom. Therefore, it makes sense to encourage your child to participate in supervised after-school and weekend activities that are challenging and fun. According to a recent survey of preteens, the availability of enjoyable, alcohol-free activities is a big reason for deciding not to use alcohol.
If your community does not offer many supervised activities, consider getting together with other parents and teens to help create some. Start by asking your child and other kids what they want to do, since they will be most likely to participate in activities that truly interest them. Find out whether your church, school or community organization can help you sponsor a project.
Help is Here
If you think your child may have an alcohol problem, help is available.
- Alcoholics Anonymous: aa.org
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: samhsa.gov/data/population-data-nsduh