Talking to your teen about underage drinking
Talking to your kids about drinking can be difficult. You
may be unsure of what to say or your teen may try to avoid
talking to you about the subject. In order to have the best
chance of communicating, you need to try and select
a moment when your son or daughter might be most
relaxed and willing to talk.
How to talk about underage drinking
Don’t worry about covering everything at once, but rather focus on opening up a dialogue about alcohol
and their decision making.
• Ask your teen’s views. Find out what your teen knows and thinks about alcohol.
• Share facts. Explain that alcohol is a powerful drug that slows the body and mind, and that anyone
can develop an alcohol problem — even a teen without risk factors for alcohol abuse.
• Debunk myths. Teens often think that drinking makes them popular or happy. Explain that alcohol
can make you feel “high” but it’s a depressant that also can cause sadness and anger.
• Discuss reasons not to drink. Avoid scare tactics. Instead,
explain the risks and appeal to your teen’s self-respect. If you
have a family history of alcoholism or drinking problems,
be honest with your teen. Strongly discourage your teen
from trying alcohol — even as an adult — since there’s a
considerable chance that your teen could develop an alcohol
• Plan ways to handle peer pressure. Brainstorm with
your teen about how to respond to offers of alcohol. It is
important that teens think about how to handle situations
before they occur. It might be as simple as saying, “No
thanks” or “Do you have any soda?”
• Talk about what happens if … Assure your teen that you
will always be there for them. If they are in a situation where
they are uncomfortable, have made a mistake, or may be in
a position to be offered a ride from someone who has been
drinking, tell them that you are just a phone call away –
assure them that you will be there for them no matter what
• Discuss the risks of alcohol poisoning. Sometimes teens
and young adults are fearful of the consequences of being
Safety Research and Outreach
caught drinking or being around alcohol so when one of their companions drinks too much they are
hesitant to call or ask for help. Explain the symptoms of alcohol poisoning to your teen and remind
them that it is important to act when they think someone might be in trouble after drinking. A friend’s
safety is more important than worrying about getting in trouble.
• Be prepared to discuss your own drinking. Your teen might ask if you drank alcohol when you were
underage. If you chose not to drink, explain why. If you chose to drink, you might share an example
of a negative consequence of your drinking. If you drink today, be prepared to talk about why social
drinking is OK for you and not for your teen.
Ways to prevent underage drinking
In addition to talking to your teen, consider other strategies to prevent underage drinking:
• Develop a strong relationship with your teen. Your support will help your teen build the self-
esteem he or she needs to
stand up to peer pressure
— and live up to your
activities. Pay attention
• Know your teen’s
to your teen’s friends,
plans and whereabouts.
in supervised after-school
and weekend activities.
• Establish rules and
might include no underage
drinking, leaving parties
where alcohol is served
and not riding in a car
with a driver who’s been
drinking. Agree on the
consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time — and enforce them consistently.
• Set an example. If you drink, do so only in moderation and explain to your teen why it’s OK for adults
to drink responsibly. Describe the rules you follow, such as not drinking and driving. Don’t serve
alcohol to anyone who’s underage.
• Encourage healthy friendships. If your teen’s friends drink, your teen is more likely to drink,
too. Explain to your teen that even if they choose not to drink they need to be aware that “guilt by
association” is an issue and who they hang around with determines how they are perceived. Get to
know your teen’s friends and their parents.
Safety Research and Outreach