The chance your child will use alcohol gets higher as he or she gets older.
About 10 percent of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol. By age 15, that number jumps to 50 percent. The sooner you talk to your children about alcohol, the greater chance you have of influencing their decision not to drink.
Some kids may try alcohol as early as 9 years old.
Most 6-year-olds know that alcohol is only for adults. Between the ages of 9 and 13, kids start to view alcohol differently. Many begin to think drinking is OK. Some even start to experiment. It is never too early to talk to your child about alcohol.
What You Can Do
- Be a positive adult role model.
- Be aware of risk factors.
- Support your kids, and give them space to grow.
- Be prepared. Your child may become curious about alcohol; he or she may turn to you for answers and advice.
- Use “natural” opportunities, such as dinner time or while doing chores, to start open, honest conversations about drinking.
- Work with schools, communities, and civic leaders to protect children from underage alcohol use.
Over the last few decades, experts have learned much more about the dangers of kids drinking alcohol. Underage drinking has many serious risks.
Kids who drink alcohol are more likely to:
- Use drugs;
- Get bad grades;
- Hurt themselves or someone else;
- Have unwanted or unprotected sex;
- Make bad decisions; and
- Have health problems.
What you say to your child about alcohol is up to you. But remember, parents who do not discourage underage drinking may have an indirect influence on their children’s alcohol use.
5 Conversation Goals
1. Show you disapprove of underage drinking.
More than 80% of young people ages 10-18 say their parents are the leading influence on their decision to drink or not drink. So they really are listening, and it’s important that you send a clear and strong message.
2. Show you care about your child’s happiness and well-being.
Young people are more likely to listen when they know you’re on their side. Try to reinforce why you don’t want your child to drink—not just because you say so, but because you want your child to be happy and safe. The conversation will go a lot better if you’re working with, and not against, your child.
3. Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol.
You want your child to be making informed decisions about drinking, with reliable information about its dangers. You don’t want your child to be learning about alcohol from friends, the internet, or the media—you want to establish yourself as a trustworthy source of information.
4. Show you’re paying attention and you’ll notice if your child drinks.
You want to show you’re keeping an eye on your child, because young people are more likely to drink if they think no one will notice. There are many subtle ways to do this without prying.
5. Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking.
Even if your child doesn’t want to drink, peer pressure is a powerful thing. It could be tempting to drink just to avoid looking uncool. To prepare your child to resist peer pressure, you’ll need to build skills and practice them.
Keep it low-key. Don’t worry, you don’t have to get everything across in one talk. Many small talks are better.
Short, frequent discussions can have a real impact on your child’s decisions about alcohol:
Talking to your child at an early age about drinking is the first step toward keeping them alcohol-free. But as they enter junior high and high school, the pressure to try alcohol increases.1
It’s important to continue the conversation throughout adolescence.
Talking often builds an open, trusting relationship with your child.
Children are more likely to avoid drinking when they have a strong, trusting relationship with their parents. 2, 3
Get into the habit of chatting with your child every day. It will make it easier to have serious conversations about things like alcohol, and will make your child more comfortable coming to you for advice.
Lots of little talks are more effective than one “big talk.”
Sitting down for the “big talk” about alcohol can be intimidating for both you and your child. Try using everyday opportunities to talk— in the car, during dinner, or while you and your child are watching TV. Having lots of little talks takes the pressure off trying to get all of the information out in one lengthy discussion, and your child will be less likely to tune you out.
When you do talk about alcohol, make your views and rules clear.
Take the time to discuss your beliefs and opinions about alcohol with your child. Be honest and express a clear, consistent message that underage drinking is unacceptable. When they feel that you’re being real and honest with them, they’ll be more likely to respect your rules about underage drinking.4
As children get older, the conversation changes.
What you say to a 9-year-old about alcohol is different from what you say to a 15-year-old. Children also can’t learn all they need to know from a single discussion. Make sure that the information you offer your child fits their age. As they get older, you can give them more information and reinforce your rules.
Create your personalized Action Plan to get age-appropriate tips.
Remember that the conversation goes both ways.
Although talking to your child about your thoughts about alcohol is essential, it’s also important to hear their point of view. Give your child the opportunity to ask you questions, and listen to what they have to say. Children who have parents who listen to their feelings and concerns are more likely to say “no” to alcohol. 5
What you do is just as important as what you say.
In addition to talking often with your child about alcohol, it’s important to set a good example. If you choose to drink, you can positively influence your child by drinking in moderation and NEVER driving when you’ve been drinking. Be aware of where you keep your alcohol, and always remind your child that the alcohol in your house is off-limits.
For this and further help in with talking to your kids: https://www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking/parent-resources