Strategies & Tips: Talking Alcohol with Kelly Whalen

What’s in your cup?”

“Can I have a sip?”

“Why can’t kids drink?”

Kids are full of questions about the world around them. From a young age they have a curiosity that just won’t quit. It starts with the ‘why’ phase where everything you say is met with a ‘why’ no matter how many times you’ve explained why you need to wash your hands before dinner.

Nurturing that curiosity in our kids is nearly a full-time job. They want to know everything- why we do certain things, how we started doing it, when we started, and more.

Embracing their natural curiosity is a wonderful way to engage with your kids over more serious topics like the dangers of underage drinking at a young age. As they get older their curiosity is still there, but they often have harder questions.

“What does alcohol taste like?”

“How does alcohol make you feel?

“Have you ever been drunk?”

No matter what age your kids are you may need to find ways to start or continue the conversation about alcohol. Below I’ve put together 5 ways you can talk about alcohol responsibility with your kids.

  1. Dive into hard topics.

As parents we often want to shield our kids from the tough situations and tragedy that happens every day in the world. But if we don’t start talking about those topics early it will be much more challenging to discuss them when our kids are tweens and teens and need the most guidance. As you encounter challenging situations or teachable moments in life it’s a great way to start a conversation.

For instance, you may be stopped at an alcohol checkpoint. This is the perfect time to talk to about why driving under the influence is a bad idea and the legal issues surrounding driving under the influence. Even young kids can grasp this concept if you put it in terms they can understand.

  1. Find conversation starters.

While we often have teachable moments that come to us sometimes we have to find ways to talk about something without the benefit of real life events.

News articles, online stories, or even your own experiences can be a great way to start a conversation about a tough topic like underage drinking. This is especially important for tweens and teens-underage alcohol use will be around them at some point, so talk about it early and often.

  1. Show–don’t just talk.

One of the best ways to teach your kids about drinking is to model responsible behavior. For most of us that means no drinking to excess (for some that means no drinking at all), no drinking and driving, being smart about taking drinks from other people, and not drinking when you’re ‘on duty’ or have to drive.

For example, when attending a social event where alcohol is involved let your kids listen to a conversation about who will be the designated driver.

  1. Be honest about struggles.

If you, a family member, friend, or someone you know has struggled with occasional overconsumption of alcohol or underage drinking it’s important to discuss it with your kids.

For instance, sharing a story about your own teenage years can put things in perspective for your kids. Talking about something is fine, but if you’ve been through it your kids won’t look at your words as a lecture, rather they’ll see it as someone who has been in their shoes.

  1. Be there.

As a mom of two teens and two tweens I know that a large portion of helping them say ‘no’ is about me being here when they need me. I never know when that will be either. I’m always available to listen or just be with them.

If they’re going to a friend’s house or out and about we talk about our expectations and rules. I also give them an ‘out’ to blame me if they ever feel pressured to drink. I’m happy to play the bad guy or send a text that they’re needed home ASAP if it gets them out of a tough spot.

There are so many opportunities we have as parents to talk and engage with our kids about underage drinking and alcohol responsibility, but my best advice?

Talk to your kids early. Talk to your kids often. Talk to your kids honestly.

More Reading:


*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.