A lot of little conversations go a really long way.
Children in middle school face influences from every side — peers, movies, music, social media. But even in the face of all these pressures, there’s still a secret weapon that can provide a positive counterbalance.
It’s called “parents.”
What parents may not realize is that children say parental disapproval of underage drinking is the key reason they have chosen not to drink.
We’re a secret weapon because our words have a far greater impact than we believe. In fact, while the majority (60%) of parents think that friends and peers have the most influence on whether minors drink alcohol, more than 3 out of 4 students (76%) feel parents talking more with them would help stop underage drinking. 9
In a recent survey teens reported that parental disapproval is the number 1 reason they don’t drink. 10
Put parent power to good use.
Even if your children are testing boundaries, even as they seek more independence, even when it seems like they never listen — you can still use your power for good. Because in spite of it all, what you say still gets through.
At first, talking about underage drinking may be awkward. But you — and your kids — will definitely benefit from practice. The more you talk, the easier it gets. And the stronger your bond becomes.
Most children think people their age are embarrassed or afraid to talk about underage drinking, and most parents – more than 65% – don’t feel fully prepared to properly address underage drinking with they’re children. 11
Fortunately, you’re doing something about that right now. There’s simply no substitute for a parent’s ability to shape children’s behavior – to keep them alcohol-free, with a healthy, fully functioning brain, and able to make the right choices when they face tough decisions.
ProofTalk: Learn more about having honest conversations.
- Start having conversations with your children before you think they’ll be exposed directly to alcohol.
- Once is not enough — reinforcement is crucial, and the conversation should change as your children get older.
- Honestly present your views on underage drinking. Firmly establish the rules your children should follow.
Start having conversations with your children well before you think they’ll be directly exposed to alcohol.
- Begin talking with your children about not drinking alcohol early on — preferably before age eight.
- Explain the real risks of underage drinking, and ask questions to make sure your children understand.
- Emphasize that alcohol is dangerous for a developing brain.
5 goals for your conversations
- Show you disapprove of underage drinking, but still love them.
- Show you care about your children’s happiness and well-being.
- Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol.
- Show you’re paying attention and you’ll notice if your children drink.
- Build your children’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking. 1
About 10 percent of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol. By age 15, that number jumps to 50 percent. The sooner you speak with your children about alcohol, the greater chance you have of influencing their decision not to drink. 2
Parents need to provide children with the confidence and knowledge to withstand peer pressure. Just telling children to say no to alcohol or “wait until you’re older” isn’t good enough. Parents must tell their children why any underage drinking (not just drinking and driving) is bad and dangerous. Studies show that children are receptive to statistics and messages against underage drinking, and see them as convincing reasons to stop underage drinking. 3
Explaining choices and consequences helps kids take responsibility for their decisions.
Once is not enough — reinforcement is crucial, and the conversation should change as your children get older.
- Have lots of little talks — it takes the pressure off trying to get all the information out at once, and your children will be less likely to tune you out.
- Use everyday situations — meals, driving in the car, doing chores — to start open, honest conversations about drinking. The more it becomes a regular topic, the more natural it will be.
- Be prepared, and make sure that the information you offer is age appropriate. As they get older, you can give them more information and reinforce your rules.
- Let them ask questions — and listen to what they have to say. Children whose parents listen to their feelings and concerns are more likely to say “no” to alcohol. 4
Learn More: Why Small Conversations Make A Big Impression
Make sure you know the facts about the dangers of underage drinking — so you’ll always be ready to answer questions, or start a conversation. Use these proven resources to learn more about the dangers of underage drinking, and how to talk about it with your kids.
- Review the information in Facing the Facts.
- Use one of these Conversation Starters to take advantage of everyday situations.
- Create your personalized Action Plan to get age-appropriate tips.
- Explore the fact sheets and guides available through the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s Underage Drinking Prevention program.
- Get the facts on how alcohol can harm brain development.
- Read the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism brochure.
- Get additional tips compiled by the Office of Highway Safety.
- Use the Family Agreement Pledge Form.
The adolescent brain is still developing and is uniquely sensitive to alcohol. Kids need to know that drinking now can have immediate physical consequences — and potentially cause long-term damage. Highlight a few critical facts, such as:
- Because of their unique response to alcohol, particularly a much less pronounced “sedative” response than in adults, adolescents are prone to drinking in “binges.”
- Excessive drinking has short-term consequences such as risky behavior, blackouts and accidents, and problems with memory and learning.
- Binge drinking has long-term consequences that can persist into adulthood, even if drinking stops. These include changes in key brain systems and behaviors that affect health.
- Preventing underage drinking in the first place is the only way to make sure your brain is protected.
- Binge drinking during adolescence can permanently change your life trajectory.
See the Understanding The Brain page to learn more.
Honestly present your views on the dangers of underage drinking. Firmly establish the rules your children should follow.
- Emphasize that drinking or buying alcohol before age 21 is illegal.
- Set clear rules about not drinking alcohol while underage. Establish appropriate consequences and consistently enforce them.
- Take the time to discuss your beliefs and opinions about alcohol with your children. Be honest and express a clear, consistent message that underage drinking is unacceptable. When they feel that you’re being real and honest with them, they’ll be more likely to respect your rules about underage drinking. 5
- Set expectations about what your children should do if offered alcohol. For example, “If there’s alcohol at a party, call me and I’ll pick you up.”
- Brainstorm and practice ways to say no. Reinforce that the best way to prevent underage drinking is to simply avoid places where alcohol is present.
- Ask your children for a personal commitment to live by the rules, then post and review the rules regularly.
Parents and teens need to know: In North Carolina, children as young as 16 can be tried as adults. Everyone needs to think about the impacts of their actions. Having an adult conversation with our children and young adults about choices and consequences is essential. Parents make the best police; much of the crime that flows from underage drinking is preventable through education.
-Benjamin R. David, District Attorney, New Hanover and Pender Counties
Some parents may feel hypocritical and question setting a no-alcohol rule because they drank as a teen and feel they “turned out fine.” However, research shows that teens today begin drinking at earlier ages and drink more at a sitting — putting them at far greater risk for addiction and brain damage. All parents need to set firm no-alcohol boundaries.
Once you apply these lessons with your own family, guess what? You’ll have the tools you need to tackle all the different tough talks parents and children need to have.
TeamWork: Learn more about building strong relationships.
- Spend time with your children — at meals, at home, outside; the location isn’t as important as the interaction.
- Get to know your children’s friends — and their friends’ parents.
- Stay connected with their sports and activities.
- Know where your children are, who they’re with, what they’re doing.
- Pay attention to their emotional state.
Spend time with your children — at meals, at home, outside; the location isn’t as important as the interaction.
- Children are less likely to drink when their parents are involved in their lives and when children and parents feel close to each other.
- Eat together. Teens who regularly eat as a family at least five times per week are 33% less likely to use alcohol.
- Make it easy for your children to share information with you. Take time every day to talk with them about their interests and activities. Try to spend at least 15 minutes a day of one-on-one time.
- Create a positive, loving home environment; be kind and respectful of each other.
- When you have to correct behavior or give consequences, make sure your children know that they’re still loved. 6
It’s not just what you say — it’s what you do.
- If you drink, you can positively influence your children by drinking in moderation.
- Never drive when you’ve been drinking.
- Be aware of where you keep your alcohol, and make sure your children know any alcohol in your house is off limits.
If your child is already drinking, don’t despair. Many of these prevention techniques can also help your child quit. And there are many other resources available to help.
Learn more about Getting Help.
Get to know your children’s friends — and their friends’ parents — and stay connected with their sports and activities.
- Be involved with your children’s education. Kids who make an effort to get good grades and are involved in school activities are far less likely to drink.
- Help your children become involved in worthwhile activities.
- Children need fun. Help provide safe, enjoyable, “no-alcohol” outlets for your kids and their friends.
- Help your children choose friends wisely. Peers who drink are the single greatest risk factor for underage alcohol use. Encourage your kids to choose friends who support your family’s values and no-alcohol rules.
- Get to know your kids’ friends and their parents. Offering friends a ride to the mall gives you a chance to get to know them.
- Discuss your no-alcohol policy with your kids’ friends and their parents. Enlist their support to help keep your kids in an alcohol-free environment.
You are not alone; every parent is dealing with these same issues, and every parent wants to keep their children from making poor decisions. It’s okay to talk about it and share the challenges you’re facing. There’s safety in numbers; work together with other parents to reinforce the rules and share this website with them. If you know your child’s friends are drinking, tell their parents. The risks of not saying anything are too high, for their children and yours.
Know where your children are, who they’re with, what they’re doing. Pay attention to their emotional state.
- Monitor your children’s activities. Teen brains aren’t fully wired for impulse control, so parents have to provide reinforcement. And at some level, most kids appreciate parental monitoring — it’s very real proof that their parents love them enough to care about their well-being.
- Watch for signs of excess stress or depression. Be extra vigilant during times of transition — switching schools, moving, going through a divorce. These can all lead to underage drinking. Help children cope in healthy ways: music, exercise, talking with a counselor, friend or doctor.
- Check on your kids when you’re not around — make a phone call, send a text, have a neighbor stop by.
- Drop in occasionally, unannounced. They may roll their eyes and seem embarrassed at your presence, but the random surprise visit lets your children know you could stop by at any time. It’s not about lack of trust; it’s about ensuring their safety.
- Make sure alcohol isn’t available to your children at home or from friends, via siblings or at parties. If they go to a friend’s house, call to make sure parents will be home and there will be no alcohol.
- If alcohol appears at a party, instruct your children that they need to call you, and you will pick them up. Then reward their good behavior. 7
Studies show kids are at higher risk for alcohol, drugs and sexual behavior between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., while many parents are still at work. 8
- Where are you going?
- What will you be doing?
- Who are you with?
- When will you be home?
- Will there be alcohol?