Teens attitudes and values toward drinking generally start to take shape early in their high school careers. Research has demonstrated that parents can influence their children’s alcohol consumption by speaking with their teens. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has published articles about how parents can talk to their teens about alcohol. They recommends having multiple conversations with your teen - and making sure it doesn’t sound like a lecture! One way to begin these talks is to ask your child what they know about alcohol and why they think kids their age drink.
Given the myriad of myths that people have about alcohol, it is important to provide your teen with accurate information. Explain the effects that alcohol has on the mind and body, including its effects on coordination and slowed reaction time (which greatly affects driving ability), as well as difficulties seeing, thinking, and making good decisions. Tell your teen that beer, wine, and alcohol are all equally dangerous and that it takes, on average, two to three hours for a single drink to leave their bodies. Kids also need to learn that people, and especially teens, are often poor judges of how seriously alcohol affects them, and so they often underestimate how impaired they are.
As the parent, it is important to not only share your views about underage drinking, but to also let your teen know that you understand that teens drink and that they may face a lot of pressure. Inform your child about your expectations and provide your teen with good reasons not to drink, like maintaining their ability to make good decisions and stay safe. Emphasize areas where there are absolutes: never engaging in drinking and driving, and always being in a group to safeguard against being in a situation that could involve violence or unwanted sex. Make sure they understand that while you don’t condone drinking, and that there are consequences to this behavior, their safety comes first. Explain that if they do drink or end up in an unsafe situation, they can call you and get help. Being available to help your child navigate their first exposures (and mistakes) with alcohol can help them learn safety lessons earlier on and protect against later problem when alcohol is more available and acceptable in college.
Parents play a big role in their children's’ lives and can dramatically influence whether and how their teen drinks or not. Make sure to talk to your kids so they have the knowledge they need before heading off to college!