Talking With Your Teen About Alcohol

Alcohol abuse and dependence is not only an adult problem. In fact, the average age when youth first try alcohol is 11 years for boys and 13 years for girls. For many parents, bringing up the subject of alcohol is not an easy matter. Whether or not your teen is receptive to the conversation may depend on how and when you approach it. Remember – this is a start of a conversation – not a lecture. 

Keep in mind some of the following tips:

  • Start early! Develop open lines of communication and an honest relationship with your child from a young age. Later, as they mature, they will feel more comfortable talking with you, and you will have a better chance of communicating effectively.
  • To improve the effectiveness of the conversations, think about what you will say beforehand.
  • Initiate the conversation during ‘down time,’ when you both are in a relaxed mood.
  • Control your emotions. If you show respect for your child’s viewpoint, he or she will be more likely to listen to and respect yours. You will quite possibly hear something you don’t like from your child. Instead of responding with anger, acknowledge your feelings in a constructive way. You might say something like, “That is difficult for me to hear. Let’s talk about it a little more so I understand your point of view.” Make every conversation a “win-win” experience. Remember – this is a conversation, not a lecture.
  • Set clear, realistic expectations for your child’s behavior. Establish appropriate consequences for breaking rules and consistently enforce them. Teens often forget that their actions have consequences.
  • Remind them that underage drinking is dangerous and illegal.
  • Don’t give up or abdicate your parental role to their peer group. Do you want to raise your children, or do you want their ‘best friends’ to raise them? They need you to be their parent more than ever when they are teenagers. Be supportive, be observant, be consistent and be available.

Here are some alcohol facts for you to discuss with your teen: 

  • Alcohol is a powerful drug that slows down the body and mind. It impairs coordination; slows reaction time; and impairs vision, clear thinking, and judgment. That’s why drinking and driving is dangerous.
  • Beer and wine are not “safer” than hard liquor. A 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, and 1 ounce of hard liquor all contain the same amount of alcohol and have the same effects on the body and mind.
  • On average, it takes 2 to 3 hours for a single drink to leave the body’s system. Nothing can speed up this process, including drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, or “walking it off.”
  • People tend to be very bad at judging how seriously alcohol has affected them. That means many individuals who drive after drinking think they can control a car — but actually cannot.
  • Anyone can develop a serious alcohol problem, including a teenager.
  • The three leading causes of death for 15- to 24-year-olds are automobile crashes, homicides and suicides — alcohol is a leading factor in all three.

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