Teaching Your Kids about Alcohol: 5 DOs and DON’Ts

How old were you when you had your first drink? 21? 17? 12?

Some people start as early as middle school; they sneak a bottle of alcohol and experiment with a couple of friends. Then they upgrade to the partying, vomiting, fights, embarrassing actions, and escaping before the cops get there  . . .

Paints a thrilling picture, doesn’t it? Maybe from a teen’s foggy perspective.

But teenagers need a different perspective on alcohol, and parents are the best people to tell them the truth about alcohol.

Talk. They Hear You.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently launched Talk. They hear you, a program designed to encourage parents to talk to their children about alcohol. With summer around the corner, the season in which first time alcohol use doubles for teens, take the effort to teach your kids how to drinkappropriately.

5 DOs and DON’Ts

Here are some helpful tips for teaching your kids about alcohol:

Disapprove of underage drinking.

Your kids are less likely to drink if they know that you strongly disapprove of them drinking. Let your kids know why:

  • It’s illegal.
  • It’s unhealthy and damages their still-developing brain.
  • It exposes them to high-risk situations– rape, drunk driving, alcohol poisoning.
  • Your kids will be more likely to struggle with alcohol problems in the future.
  • It will negatively affect their athletics and academics.

Let them go to parties with alcohol.

  • Teens who aren’t drinking at an underage drinking party can still get into trouble legally.
  • It’s inconsistent. Letting teens go to a drinking party expecting them not to drink is like letting them go to a dance expecting them not to dance.
  • It’s too much pressure. It’s harder to say no when everyone else around you is drinking and there’s a cup within reach.

Encourage healthy outlets.

  • Encourage your kids to get involved in the things they enjoy. It will teach them healthy ways to have fun and cope with stress. Schools and communities have many extra-curricular activities—language, art, drama, business, and service clubs; youth groups; music; sports.

Offer your kids alcohol at home.

  • Some parents think their child will drink no matter what, so it’s safer to let them drink at home.  However, doing so actually opens the door to a child continuing to drink. Studies show that if children know their parents allow drinking, they will be more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs.

Have small, frequent conversations.

  • Take advantage of everyday opportunities, like dinner or TV time, to talk about alcohol. Keep the information at a level your kids will understand—what you say to them at 9 will be different from what you will say when they are 14. Talking to your children every day builds a strong, trusting relationship, which will make talking about serious topics, like alcohol, easier.

Lecture or have a “big talk.”

  • When parents go into this mode, kids usually half listen—perhaps they are too intimidated to fully listen, they zone out, or they are listening, but with an attitude of rebelling inwardly. Also, parents often think their job is done after one “big talk.” Humans naturally forget things; a parent could forget what they all wanted to say and children forget what was said too. We all need constant reminders.

Tell the truth.

  • Be objective when you talk to your children about alcohol.
  • Clearly set and explain your rules about underage drinking. Give them the facts about alcohol and how serious addiction is.
  • Let them know if alcoholism runs in the family (if it does, your children’s choice to drink at 21 may not even be worth the high risk of addiction). Remember, addiction can happen to anyone even if it isn’t in the family history.

Rely solely on Just say no to drugs.

  • Although the “Say No to Drugs” slogan may help, it isn’t exactly the most effective way to combat the temptation to try that first joint or first drink. Knowing why to say no to drugs and alcohol is more powerful in fighting the pressure to fit in and “be cool.”

Be a good role model.

  • If you have an alcohol problem, seek help and live out sobriety. If you do drink, explain to your kids the reasons you drink, like to celebrate special occasions, but emphasize that your drinking is always in moderation. Most importantly, live out responsible drinking.

Scare them into not drinking.

  • Phrases like, “You can’t handle it,” encourage, rather than discourage, a teen to drink.


Ask open-ended questions.

Understand what your children are actually thinking. Listen to their opinions and concerns. Ask them questions such as

  • What do you think about alcohol?
  • Do you think alcohol is dangerous?
  • Do your friends drink? What do you think about that?
  • If someone asked or pressured you to drink, what would you say?
  • When do you think it’s appropriate to drink alcohol? How much alcohol is appropriate?

Not say anything about alcohol.

  • Avoiding the topic of alcohol with children is an open invitation for them to drink. Surveys show that around age 9, kids start to think differently about alcohol, but are still really listening to their parents up to age 15. This window of time is critical for communicating with your children in efforts to prevent them from the harmful consequences of underage drinking.

Will You Talk?

Science says addiction runs in the family. Practically, that means children of addicts and alcoholics should stay very far away from drugs and alcohol. Do you think your story of addiction and recovery is enough to curb your children away from drugs and alcohol? We’d think so and certainly hope so, but let’s not take any chances —will you talk to your children about alcohol?