When & How to Discuss Alcohol

Make Your Views Clear

There is no solid answer to WHEN the alcohol discussion should begin with kids. But the topic should not be taboo. Whether your child raises the subject of drinking or you broach it yourself, when the topic does come up, make your views utterly clear. Your tween may not parrot your opinions the way he did when he was seven, but he still very much cares about what you say. And despite what you may think, he is listening.

Parents are the leading influence on kids’ decisions to drink or not drink alcohol. Have the conversations. Let them ask while you listen, and learn together about saying YES to a healthy lifestyle and NO to underage drinking.

Take advantage of daily opportunities to talk.

Use a current newspaper article or recent event about alcohol as a way to start a conversation.

Give your reaction to these examples. Ask your child for his. Make it a discussion, not an argument. Learn from each other.

“Kids need to know that if they speak openly, they won’t regret it,” says Paul Coleman, a psychologist, family therapist, and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. “They don’t want to be talked down to. Eliminate comments like ‘How could you think that way? What made you say such a thing?’” If your child feels you’re interrogating him, he’ll clam up. If he knows that it’s okay to talk – even disagree – about difficult issues, he’ll be less likely to tune out your opinion.

Establish the Consequences

Kids can be very literal, and your child may not know how you feel about underage alcohol consumption until you make it perfectly clear.

Tell him, “I’m completely against it for kids.”
Then explain exactly why.

What If You Discover That Your Child Has Already Experimented With Alcohol?

If you catch him/her red-handed:

“There should be consequences,” says Paul Coleman, a psychologist, family therapist, and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. Curfews, grounding, or limits on phone use are some possibilities. Emphasize that drinking is illegal at her age. Remind her that if the police catch her, she could face much more severe penalties, such as being thrown out of school, having a permanent criminal record, or being summoned to court.

If he/she comes to you:

On the other hand, if your child comes to you with an admission, the last thing you want to do is squash that impulse. “If he tells you something and then gets in trouble for it, that’s the last time your child will tell you anything,” emphasizes Anthony Wolf, a clinical psychologist and author of Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall and I’d Listen to My Parents if They’d Just Shut Up: What to Say and Not Say When Parenting Teens. Instead:

Praise honesty, but don’t let the problem go by without weighing in.

Repeat firmly that you disapprove of this behavior, that it’s highly dangerous, and that you expect it never to happen again.

Discussion Topics

Know What To Say

Tweens are undergoing many emotional and physical changes, and they’re fascinated by how their bodies and minds operate. So give your child plenty of information about how alcohol affects them physiologically. You don’t have to deliver a science report, but tell her about alcohol’s negative impact on a young person.

  • Physically, alcohol affects many of the body’s organs and systems. It can irritate the stomach lining, make people lose their balance, throw up, and become unable to focus or speak clearly.
  • Emotionally, it can make young people stressed, angry, and violent.
  • Mentally, it can interfere with normal brain development.
  • It affects learning and memory, slows reactions, and often makes kids lose interest in getting good grades and staying in school.
  • In some situations alcohol reduces inhibitions, leading to a wide range of risky situations.
  • Drinking too much over a long period of time can damage major organs, including the liver, pancreas, kidneys, and bone marrow.
  • In other cases, usually in larger amounts, it can act as a depressant, potentially leading to sleep, comas, and even death.

Still looking for more information? Check out our videos that explore the developing brain and the way it is affected by alcohol.

> Read Next Start A Conversation

Share This Page: