FACT: Talking to your child is the number one thing you can do to prevent underage drinking.
Remember, it is not just THE talk, but a series of conversations. Sitting down for the "big talk" about alcohol can be intimidating for both you and your child. Try using everyday opportunities to talk— in the car, during dinner or while you and your child are watching TV. Having lots of little talks takes the pressure off trying to get all of the information out in one lengthy discussion, and your child will be less likely to tune you out.
Short, frequent discussions can have a real impact on your child's decisions about alcohol. Talking to your child at an early age about drinking is the first step toward keeping them alcohol-free. But as they enter junior high and high school, the pressure to try alcohol increases.1 It's important to continue the conversation throughout adolescence.
Talking often builds an open, trusting relationship with your child. Children are more likely to avoid drinking when they have a strong, trusting relationship with their parents. Get into the habit of chatting with your child every day. It will make it easier to have serious conversations about things like alcohol, and will make your child more comfortable coming to you for advice.
When you do talk about alcohol, make your views and rules clear. Take the time to discuss your beliefs and opinions about alcohol with your child. 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.
As children get older, the conversation changes. What you say to a 9-year-old about alcohol is different from what you say to a 15-year-old. Children also can't learn all they need to know from a single discussion. Make sure that the information you offer your child fits their age. As they get older, you can give them more information and reinforce your rules.
Remember that the conversation goes both ways. Although talking to your child about your thoughts about alcohol is essential, it's also important to hear their point of view. Give your child the opportunity to ask you questions, and listen to what they have to say. Children who have parents who listen to their feelings and concerns are more likely to say "no" to alcohol.
What you do is just as important as what you say. In addition to talking often with your child about alcohol, it's important to set a good example. If you choose to drink, you can positively influence your child by drinking in moderation and NEVER driving when you've been drinking. Be aware of where you keep your alcohol, and always remind your child that the alcohol in your house is off-limits.
Getting Started—tips on talking
When you are talking with your child, it is good to keep goals in mind—that is, what you want them to think, do and know as a result of your talk. Here are five key goals to get you started.
Show you disapprove of underage drinking.
More than 80% of young people ages 10-18 say their parents are the leading influence on their decision to drink or not drink. So they really are listening, and it’s important that you send a clear and strong message.
Show you care about your child’s happiness and well-being.
Young people are more likely to listen when they know you’re on their side. Try to reinforce why you don’t want your child to drink—not just because you say so, but because you want your child to be happy and safe. The conversation will go a lot better if you’re working with, and not against, your child.
Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol.
You want your child to be making informed decisions about drinking, with reliable information about its dangers. You don’t want your child to be learning about alcohol from friends, the Internet, or the media—you want to establish yourself as a trustworthy source of information.
Show you’re paying attention and you’ll notice if your child drinks.
You want to show you’re keeping an eye on your child, because young people are more likely to drink if they think no one will notice. There are many subtle ways to do this without prying.
Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking.
Even if your child doesn’t want to drink, peer pressure is a powerful thing. It could be tempting to drink just to avoid looking uncool. To prepare your child to resist peer pressure, you’ll need to build skills and practice them.
Remember, keep it low-key. And don’t worry, you don’t have to get everything across in one talk. Many small talks are better.
Be Prepared: Answering your child’s tough questions about alcohol
As your child becomes curious about alcohol, he or she may turn to you for answers and advice. This is great! You have established yourself as a credible source and a trusted support. Use this opportunity to start an open, honest conversation about drinking. Because some questions can be difficult to answer, it is important to be prepared. The following are some common questions and answers about underage drinking.
“I got invited to a party. Can I go?”
Ask your child if an adult will be present at the party or if he or she thinks children will be drinking. Remind your child that even being at a party where there is underage drinking can get him or her into trouble. Use this time to establish or reinforce your rules about alcohol and outline the behavior you expect.
“Did you drink when you were a kid?”
Don’t let your past stop you from talking to your child about underage drinking. If you drank as a teenager, be honest. Acknowledge that it was risky. Make sure to emphasize that we now know even more about the risks to children who drink underage. You could even give your child an example of a painful moment that occurred because of your underage drinking.
“Why do you drink?”
Make a distinction between alcohol use among children and among adults. Explain to your child your reasons for drinking: whether it is to enhance a meal, share good times with friends, or celebrate a special occasion. Point out that if you choose to drink it is always in moderation. Tell your child that some people should not drink at all, including underage children.
“What if my friends ask me to drink?”
Helping your child say “no” to peer pressure is one of the most important things you can do to keep him or her alcohol-free. Work with your child to think of a way to handle this situation, whether it is simply saying, “No, I don’t drink,” or saying, “I promised my mom (or dad) that I wouldn’t drink.”
“You drink alcohol, so why can’t I?”
Remind your child that underage drinking is against the law, and for good reason. Point out that adults are fully developed mentally and physically so they can handle drinking. Children’s minds and bodies, however, are still growing, so alcohol can have a greater effect on their judgment and health.
“Why is alcohol bad for me?”
Don’t try to scare your child about drinking or tell him or her, “You can’t handle it.” Instead, tell your child that alcohol can be bad for his or her growing brain, interferes with judgment and can make him or her sick. Once children hear the facts and your opinions about them, it is easier for you to make rules and enforce them.
Need More Help? Coaching, scripts and interactive materials
We don’t expect you to be an instant expert. Establishing the right tone and including the appropriate information in your conversations with your child takes practice, patience and a little push from the experts.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has created an interactive video that guides you through these potentially difficult conversations. You can see how your approach plays out, get feedback, and then make adjustments to become more effective in reaching your child. Link here. (http://beta.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking/start-the-talk)
Another strategy is to stay in frequent text contact with your child with positive messages about not drinking. Here are some sample texts that you can use or adapt. Link here to another page.
Be careful tonight. If your friends offer you a drink, just say you promised me no.
Have fun tonight! Keep your curfew in mind. Call me if you need anything.
Have fun tonight.
Remember, alcohol can lead you 2 say things and do things u wish u hadn’t.
Have fun with ur friends. Remember, we are always here if u need anything.
Hey! Have fun tonight. Wanted 2 remind you not 2 drink at the party.
Hey! Let me know what u r doing tonight.
Hi! Where r u? Let me know. Love u.
I trust you to make good decisions 2nite. Let me know if you need anything. We r here for you.
I want you to have fun 2nite, but be safe. Love, Mom/Dad
I’m so glad you’re my son/daughter.
You make me so proud.
It took me forever to write this text, but just wanted to say hi. I love you.
Just because your friends drink, doesn’t mean you have to.
I’m here if you need anything.
Just wanted to say that I am thinking about you. xo
Let me know who is going to be at the party. Are the parents going 2 B home?
Remember 2 always make good decisions. It only takes 1 bad 1 2 ruin all the good ones.
Remember our discussion about drinking. We love you too much to see anything bad happen to you.
Remember your promise to us. Be safe tonight. Love you.
Remember, not drinking will keep you from making decisions you may regret.
Resisting peer pressure is tough, but you can do whatever you set your mind to!