Parenting Advice for Kids who are Already Drinking

A teenage boy drinking at home on the couch.
A teenager drinking underage at home on the couch.

Despite the illegality of underage drinking, for many teenagers and young adults, alcohol use is already the norm. In fact, nearly 60 percent of young people have had at least one alcoholic beverage by the time they turn 18.

As teens try to find some level of independence in their lives, they are not realistically prepared to deal with the consequences of alcohol misuse on their own. Parents often have questions about how to speak with their children about the dangers of underage drinking.

Signs Your Child May Be Drinking

While the legal drinking age in the United States is 21, alcohol can be fairly accessible for young people, and it might even be happening under your roof. There are several signs that may indicate your child is drinking underage that parents should watch for.

While some signs may be normal parts of growing up, a combination can indicate something else is going on. You know your children the best.

Changes in Attitude

As a result of drinking, your child may experience significant changes in their attitude. They may defy family rules and traditions that they once enjoyed. They may get generally irritable or even defensive when directly confronted about the possibility of drinking. Their change in attitude may reflect in their schoolwork, with an ever-decreasing GPA, poor attendance, and disciplinary problems, as well.

Physical Changes

The effects of alcohol on a teenager’s body can have some telltale physical signs. Like when adults drink too much, bloodshot eyes, incoordination, slurring of words, or waking up hung-over, can all be signs that a child has consumed alcohol recently.

The “Obvious”

Changes in an environment are often the easiest signs to spot. If a child has alcohol on their breath, you find alcoholic beverage containers hidden or even in plain sight, or alcohol mysteriously goes missing from your home, there’s a high possibility that your child is drinking.

How Can I Handle This Situation?

To handle your child drinking in an effective way, you need to be careful with how you react. There is often not a single answer as to why someone may drink while underage. Parents should consider all aspects of their children’s lives before jumping to conclusions, as problems at home or at school could play a role. A strict punishment for teen drinking isn’t always the answer, as there are constructive methods to solve the issue.

Communicate, Don’t Lecture or Humiliate

Often, the last people a teenager wants to hear from on any subject are their parents, especially if it’s a lecture that they’ve heard before. In order to tackle the issues associated with a child’s underage drinking, establish an open line of communication, based on trust and respect. Remind them that you still love them, but also make sure they know that drinking alcohol is a violation of your trust.

It is important that teens know the truths about alcohol. Underage drinking can cause bodily harm and developmental issues, besides the fact that it is illegal. These facts can be presented in a constructive manner, rather than in an angry lecture, which is far more likely to be heard, but not understood.

What happens between you and your child is your business, no one else’s. You don’t need to publicly shame your child on social media or call their friends’ parents and rant to them. While establishing open and effective communication, you don’t want to alienate your child in the process. They’ll be far less likely to listen and could feel uncomfortable about coming to you for help in the future.

Watch for Repeated Behavior and Seek Help if Needed

If appropriate punishment doesn’t solve the problem, and your child’s drinking continues, it may be best to consider seeking an additional level of help. There are several resources available to parents to help them discuss and end the issue of underage drinking with their children.

Whether your child is 8 or 18, your words as a parent can make a huge difference in curbing underage drinking. Click here to take the pledge with your family to stop underage drinking.