Teaching Teens About Alcohol: How to Start the Conversation

Father and son hugging.

Teaching teens about alcohol can be tough. There’s a lot to cover, and it’s important parents start the conversation early before it becomes a problem later. It’s often easier said than done.

What can parents do to teach their teens about alcohol? How do they start the conversation? Keep kids engaged? We know it can be daunting to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation with your teen.

Here are a few tips on teaching teens about alcohol.

When is It Appropriate to Teach Teens About Alcohol?

You may wonder how old your child should be before you teach them about the dangers of underage drinking.

A report on the State of Underage Drinking in North Carolina reveals that most young people try alcohol at the average age of 14. The same study shows that 38 percent of eighth-graders have tried alcohol at least once.

It’s best to start the conversation about alcohol with your teenager as early as middle school. By addressing the consequences of underage drinking when your kids are ages 10 to 12, parents can stop bad behaviors early, before movies or social media glamorize partying and getting drunk.

How Do I Talk to My Child About Alcohol and What Do I Say?

You know when you need to teach your teen about alcohol, but how do you go about it? Talking about alcohol with your teenager can be intimidating for any parent. It’s understandable if you have difficulty starting the conversation about an uncomfortable topic. Talk It Out NC is here to help you find the right strategy to get started.

The most important thing to remember when teaching teens about alcohol is to connect with them on their level. Remember that this is a conversation, not a lecture. The moment it becomes a lecture, your teen will tune you out.

Make sure not to preach. Take time to listen. It shows your teen that you respect and hear them. This makes teens more likely to listen to you and take you seriously.

Talk to Teens About the Facts About Alcohol

Teens are more apt to listen to facts over threats. By approaching your teenager with real research and statistics about the dangers of underage drinking, you can better talk to them about the serious consequences.

Explain to your teen how each year, excessive alcohol use contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States. Furthermore, more teenagers die from alcohol use than all other illicit drugs combined. Present the facts to your teen and explain your concern about underage drinking and why it’s always a bad idea.

Explain the Brain Science Behind Underage Drinking

In addition to the alarming statistics about underage drinking, science has taught us the dangerous impact of drinking on the teenage brain. Alcohol takes a more serious toll on kids than adults.

The human brain is not fully developed until close to age 25, making it even more important for teenagers to avoid underage alcohol use. Drinking underage can have long-term consequences on the brain, inhibiting the development of new brain cells. It turns out that underage drinking can also hardwire the brain for alcohol dependency later in life

Express Your Concern from a Place of Love

It’s always important your conversation starts with love. You don’t need to make everything into a performance or production, so try to keep things light.

With so much sensationalism in the world today, it can be easy for teens to shut out what they don’t want to hear. When you keep it casual, your teenager knows you’re realistic and concerned without dramatic hype.

Things to Teach Your Teen About Alcohol

By now, you should know how to talk to teens about alcohol. However, there are a lot of stages of development between middle school and high school. Each stage requires a slightly different approach to make sure your kids hear you. Here are a few age-appropriate suggestions to start the conversation.

Talking to 8- to 12-Year-Olds About Alcohol

When speaking with children between the ages of 8 and 12-years-old, you must keep the conversation friendly and open. Instead of turning each talk into an “after-school special,” make it into a relaxed and casual chat without any pressure.

You can use all sorts of cues to get things started. The next time you see underage drinking or irresponsible alcohol use in a movie or show, ask your child what they think of it. Then ask your child why they feel that way. Ask if the characters behaving responsibly.

Teaching Teens About Alcohol From Ages 12 to 16

By the time your youngster reaches high school, they will already be inundated with information about alcohol from practically all sides. The conversation about alcohol use becomes a bit more sophisticated.

Your teen has already experienced different types of peer pressure. However, peer pressure really ramps up once they reach middle school. Talk to your teen about peer pressure and their experiences at school. Discuss their friends and behaviors out of curiosity and NOT as an interrogation.

Talking to 16 to 20-Year-Olds About Alcohol

Once your teenager reaches 16, you have more than just underage drinking to worry about. You also need to discuss driving under the influence of alcohol.

Teen drunk drivers are responsible for 17 percent of all fatal alcohol-related auto crashes. Alcohol and auto vehicles never mix, and this is especially true for teenagers.

Your teenager may start to be invited to more parties. This is an important social time in a young person’s life. It’s also when they are exposed to binge drinking. Take the time to talk about the risks and consequences of binge drinking with your teenager and show it’s because you care, not because you’re trying to control them.

Start the Conversation with Your Teen Today!

No matter when or how you talk to your teen about alcohol, it’s important you start the conversation. Take the pledge with your teen to stop underage drinking today.