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5 Tips for Talking to Your Teen about Underage Drinking

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that, by the age of 15, more than one-third of teens have had at least one alcoholic drink, a number that almost doubles by age 18. Binge-drinking is also a big risk among this age group, a behavior that can lead to injury, memory and learning problems, and chronic conditions like heart disease. How can parents talk with their kids about underage drinking? Here are five tips for tackling this challenging but important topic with your teen.

  1. Start the conversation early – and have it often. Parents have a significant impact on their child’s decision to try substances. That is why the sooner you talk to your child about alcohol, the greater chance you have of influencing their decisions to try it. Take advantage of “teachable” moments that happen naturally.
  1. Model healthy living. If you drink heavily, your teen is more likely to start drinking earlier and to drink more heavily. Model a responsible relationship with alcohol. Equally important, model handling your own emotions responsibly. If your teen sees that you associate alcohol with happiness, then your teen will assume that alcohol will make them happy too. 
  1. Share stories about how you dealt with drinking as a teen. Did you have friends who drank? How did you handle the peer pressure? Opening up to your teen about your own experiences will help them realize that you’ve been in their shoes and understand what they’re going through. It also helps to open up the subject of underage drinking in a safe way because the conversation isn’t about them. 
  1. Role play drinking situations with your teen. You should role-play with your teen in advance of them being exposed to situations where underage drinking happens. This is better than just asking what they will do. Role-playing puts them in a situation where they must free-think a response, which forces them to really be aware of what is happening in the conversation.
  1. Coach instead of trying to control. You can’t control your teen when they are out of your sight, but you can help them become a person who has good values and judgment. You do that by modeling these things and by talking openly with your teen. Ask questions to help your teen reflect on what’s important to them and who they want to be. Then listen hard. You’ll learn a lot from their answers.

When you create a supportive environment, model good self-care, explain age-relevant reasoning, and talk directly and honestly with your teen, they are more likely to respect your rules and advice about alcohol use and make better decisions. For more information, visit