Parent Power

the power to prevent underage alcohol use

Talk with Your Teens

Talking with your teen about NOT using alcohol is the first step in prevention. Developing open, trusting communication between you and your child is essential to helping your teen avoid alcohol use. If your teen feels comfortable talking openly with you, you'll have a greater chance of guiding him or her toward healthy decision making. Some ways to begin:

  • Encourage conversation.
  • Encourage your child to talk about his/her interests.
  • Listen without interruption
  • Give your child a chance to teach you something new.
  • Your active listening paves the way for conversations about topics that concern you.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Encourage your teen to tell you how he or she thinks and feels about the issue you're discussing.
  • Avoid questions that have a simple "yes" or "no" answer.
  • Control your emotions.
  • If you hear something you don't like, try not to respond with anger. Instead, take a few deep breaths and acknowledge your feelings in a constructive way.
  • Don't lecture or try to "score points" by showing how he or she is wrong.
  • If you show respect for your teen's viewpoint, he or she will be more likely to listen to and respect yours.

As a parent, you already understand that your relationship with your teen can make a difference. The guidance you give strengthens the bond you have with your child and helps counter media images that glorify alcohol. It also gives your teenager the tools he or she will need to resist peer pressure to drink. Still, finding the right words to say, and when to say them, can be tough. Here are some recommended examples of how to talk with your teenager-and what to say.

Setting the Rules

  • "If you're at a party where kids are drinking, I want you to call me and I'll come pick you up."
  • "I love you, and I want the best for you, so I don't want you to use alcohol."
  • "I really want you to be healthy and safe, that's why I don't want you to use alcohol."

Avoid Risky Situations

  • "It's never OK for you to ride in a car with someone who had been drinking. I will be proud if you ever find yourself in an unsafe situation and you call on me for help."
  • "I care enough about you to ask you who you are going with and what you are going to do. I'm your parent and it's my job to keep you safe."
  • "You know I love you, but I'm your parent not your friend."
  • "I won't allow you to be in a place where kids are drinking. I'll help you come up with other ideas about what you and your friends can do for fun."

Enforce the Rules

  • "We've talked about how I feel about you using alcohol-and the consequences. You have no (Internet, telephone, car, visit to friends' houses, allowance, etc.) privileges for (time period)."
  • "I'm glad you told me, but I'm disappointed that you tried alcohol. I don't want you to stop talking to me, and I'm proud of you for being open with me, but I don't want you to use alcohol again. Do you remember what the consequences are that we agreed on? What would you do if you were in my position and you wanted to keep your own child safe?"
  • "I hate to see you suffer from the consequences, but this is much less than the suffering we would all go through if you were to get hurt or killed because of drinking. These consequences are important because they are what proves that we are really serious about these rules and we expect you to obey them."

What is important is that the rules are clear and that there are some reasonable consequences that get enforced - what those consequences are is negotiable and should depend on the severity of the act and whether or not the child lied. Punishments that are too severe can be ineffective. Punishment for most rule violations, particularly first offenses, should not exceed three weeks because your child may lose sight of why s/he is being punished. As an alternative suggestion, consider having your child read and discuss articles on the effects of alcohol, take on extra household chores, or perform community service.

What Kids Can Say

Give your teenager the means, and the words, they need to say "no" to alcohol. Teens say they prefer quick "one-liners" that allow them to dodge a drink without making a big scene. It will probably work best for your teen to take the lead in thinking of comebacks to drink offers so that he or she will feel comfortable saying them. To get the brainstorming started, here are some simple pressure-busters.

  1. "No thanks."
  2. "I don't feel like it—do you have any soda?"
  3. "I don't drink."
  4. "My parents would kill me, I'd be grounded for life!"
  5. "I can't afford to—I'd get kicked off the team (club, etc.)"
  6. "My coach would be really mad and I don't want to let my teammates down"

Excerpts are reprinted from "Keeping Your Kids Drug-Free" by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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