Changing the Narrative Around Alcohol: A Parent’s Guide

Parents are responsible for shaping their kids’ perspectives on life and their behavior. There’s no doubt about that. But sometimes we need to shift the narrative from the one we’ve always used to something different to help our kids gain perspective and make healthier choices. It all starts with a story.

There’s a story that my parents used to share with me that I share with my kids now. It has many versions. The story goes like this:

A mother is teaching her daughter how to make a roast in the kitchen. The mother shows her daughter that she has to cut the end of the roast off as part of the preparation. Being an inquisitive young woman the daughter asks, “Why do we cut the end off?” The mother stops, knife in mid-air, and ponders. “I’m not sure, actually. It’s the way my mother always did it.”

They wrap up in the kitchen and the mother calls her mom, the grandmother. After some small talk they discuss the roast recipe. “Mom I was teaching her how to make the roast, and she asked why we cut the end off. Why did you do that?” The grandmother pauses on the phone and carefully considers, “I don’t know either. That’s just the way my mom made it.” Now they’re all curious. Why did great-grandmother make the roast that way? Why did they have to cut the end off?

A few days later they all go to see great-grandmother. After pleasantries and small talk the grandmother asks, “Mom, you know your famous roast recipe? We were talking about it the other day. We’re wondering… why did you always cut the end of the roast off?”

The great grandmother smiles, pauses, and says, “So it would fit in my roast pan!” They all marvel that they’ve been doing it the same way for so long without ever questioning why.

The story of course demonstrates how something we pass down, something we see, and share can become a part of our ‘recipe’ or narrative for life without us ever stopping to question ‘why’.

When we think about our ‘why’ and the reason we do things it’s usually pretty obvious. We want our kids to be happy and healthy. But how we approach that can be very different from how we learned the same lessons or the challenges we faced. We can change that narrative to fit our kids, our life, and our experiences.
One of the most challenging conversations revolves around drinking alcohol, underage drinking, and alcohol consumption. Those concepts can be challenging to discuss when kids are young, but getting them to discuss it when they are teens can be even harder. Not only do teens tend to clam up and rely more on their peer groups for help, but they struggle to find ways to communicate with parents without judgment or a narrative that is only filled with the word ‘no’.

Instead of focusing on the same old stories and narrative that you were handed down, why not make your own way to communicate with them. In our house that involves a lot of honesty about family addiction issues, experiences we had turning down drinks as underage kids, and the times we turned down rides from friends who had been drinking.

As a mom of 4, including two teens, this is such an important part of my parenting right now. I’m challenged to help them make it in school, learn how to deal with peer pressure or issues with friends, teaching them how to take care of themselves, and allowing them to make mistakes and sometimes even fall flat on their faces. Sometimes it seems like I’m battling it out with them, but I know that in reality they’re listening. Even though it’s popular opinion that the older kids get the more they lean on peer relationships in fact they are listening. Survey results have found that both parents and kids cite parents as the leading influence on kids’ decisions to not drink alcohol.

That means they really and truly are listening and watching. They see what you’re doing and are likely to model your behavior. They hear what you say and take it to heart.

When you realize how valuable and important those conversations about alcohol and life in general can be it can be empowering for parents. Now even if she’s arguing like a lawyer or he’s not as forthcoming as he used to be you could rest a little easier knowing your behavior and words ARE sinking in.

Our kids are listening

It may seem like talking to a brick wall sometimes, but in reality your kids are listening. They hear what you’re saying about alcohol and they’re really listening. They know how it can effect their growing bodies, they know the legal rules, they understand that some people try to drink underage, and that others abuse alcohol. They hear you.

Our kids are watching

That whole ‘do as I say, not as I do’ concept? It’s simply doesn’t work when it comes to kids. Modeling good behavior is the key to expecting good behavior from kids. That includes responsible drinking, never drinking and driving, and being mindful of where and how alcohol is stored around kids. They see that you’re being responsible and will learn to model that behavior from a young age.

Hear What Kids Have To Say About Parents

This video is all about what kids see and hear us say. One of the most important things you’ll hear is that many tweens and teens are frustrated by the difference between how their mothers are in real life versus how they portray themselves online. It’s an important message not just for moms, but for dads, grandparents, mentors, and others to remember when they share things online.

At the end of the day we’re the ones who are responsible for how our kids view alcohol, so it’s time to take stock of the messages you’re sending.

Need More Reading?

We have a great list of resources below for you to check out to help you talk to your kids about alcohol

  • Why it’s important to talk about alcohol
  • Parents really do make a difference!
  • Why do moms always talk about wine? Replacing jokes with honest conversations
  • Parents carry far more weight than advertisements 
  • Parents should be parents: A look at ABC’s Modern Family


*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( or any member.*
Kelly Whalen is the author of The Centsible Life, a website devoted to helping women live well on less, learn how to be savvy money managers, and get the most out of their lives. The site and Kelly have won awards and have been featured in national and local media. When she’s not busy with her four kids, you can find her talking money and motherhood on twitter and Facebook.