What Parents Can Do
Parents, you hold tremendous influence on whether your child decides to drink or not. Be clear to your teen that you disapprove of underage drinking. Talk often about the dangers of alcohol (see below for tips on talking). Here are other things you can do:
- If you choose to drink, model responsible drinking behavior. Sometimes we unintentionally send kids the message that we need alcohol to cope with problems or have a good time. After a long, stressful day, instead of pouring yourself a glass of wine or beer, try modeling healthy behavior like deep breathing, exercise or stretching. Find ways to celebrate without alcohol. Research shows that a child with a parent who binge drinks is much more likely to binge drink than a child whose parents do not binge drink.
- Do not make alcohol available to your child. No exceptions.
- Be actively involved in your child’s life and have regular conversations with your teen about what’s going on and how she/he is feeling.
- Get to know your child’s friends – as well as their parents/caregivers.
- Encourage your teen to participate in healthy and fun activities that do not involve alcohol. If your child seeks new challenges, guide him/her toward healthy risks.
- Kids ages 11-14 see approximately 1,000 alcohol ads a year. Discuss what you see and help put context around the alcohol messaging your child receives from friends and the media.
The best thing you can do is communicate regularly with your teen. Here’s how:
- Try to preserve a position of objectivity and openness. If you want to have a productive conversation with your teen, try to keep an open mind and remain curious and calm. That way, your child is more likely to be receptive to what you have to say.
- Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that elicit more than just a “yes” or “no” response from your teen and will lead to a more engaging conversation.
- Let your teen know you hear him/her. Use active listening and reflect back what you are hearing from your teen — either verbatim, or just the sentiment. For example: “I’m hearing that you feel overwhelmed, and that you think drinking helps you relax. Is that right?”
- Discuss the negative effects of alcohol and what that means in terms of mental and physical health, safety and making good decisions. Talk about the long-term effects.
- If your child’s interested in drinking, ask him/her why – and what might happen if she does. This gets your teen to think about her future, what her boundaries are around drinking – and some of the possible negative consequences (she may be late to practice, do something stupid in front of her friends, feel hungover.) It will also give you insight into what’s important to her.
- Offer empathy and compassion. Let your child know you understand. The teen years can be tough. Acknowledge that everyone struggles sometimes, but alcohol is not a useful or healthy way to cope with problems. Let your child know that he/she can trust you.
- Remind your child that you are there for support and guidance – and that it’s important to you that she/he is healthy and happy and makes safe choices.
- If there is a history of addiction or alcoholism in your family, then your child has a much greater risk of developing a problem. Be aware of this elevated risk and discuss it with your child regularly, as you would with any disease.
- Is there a problem? Keep an eye on how your child is coping. Does he or she seem withdrawn or uninterested in the usual activities? These are signs that your child might be hiding something or need some guidance.
If You’re Throwing a Party:
- Supervise all parties to make sure there is no alcohol – and make sure your teens know the rules ahead of time.
- Set a start and end time for the party.
- Make sure an adult is at home during the party and regularly checking in.
If Your Teen is Attending a Party:
- Know where your child will be. Call the parents in advance to verify the occasion and location and that there will be supervision.
- Indicate your expectations to your child and the parent hosting the party.
- If the activity seems inappropriate, express concern and keep your child home.
- Assure your child that he/she can call you to be picked up whenever needed.
- Use this sample contract as a guide to establish rules about drugs and alcohol.
We’re wishing you and your family a safe and healthy summer.