How to Talk to Your Kids About Underage Drinking

Thank you Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board for sponsoring this post. Learn more about how you can prevent underage drinking at KnowWhenKnowHow.org.

Nervous about talking to your kids about alcohol? These 5 tips helped me get through it! Check out 5 tips for talking to kids about underage drinking and find out where to get more help!

 

With one in three kids trying alcohol before age 8 (and no, that’s not a typo), talking to your kids about underage drinking is definitely a conversation that can’t wait until the teen years. In fact, kids are more receptive to listening to your input between ages 8 and 11, so the earlier you have that conversation, the better.

You don’t have to sit your kids down and have “the big talk” all at once. In fact, talking to them about abstaining from drinking shouldn’t be a “one and done” lecture at all. It should be an ongoing dialogue between you and your child rather than a one-sided, intimidating monologue. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, I’ve been there and have a few tips to help you learn how to talk to your kids about underage drinking!

How to Talk to Kids About Underage Drinking

 

I had a conversation with a therapist about this years ago, when my son was still a preschooler. I wanted to know, in her opinion, when I should bring up the topic of alcohol, especially since alcoholism runs in my family.  Her advice kind of surprised me. She suggested that I start the conversation before his 10th birthday, but continue it throughout his pre-teen and teen years. Here are a few tips that I learned on how to get that conversation started.

1. Start the conversation in a casual environment

If you want your kids to listen to you, do not sit them down on the couch and say, “let’s have a talk.” Think back to your own childhood and remember how your eyes glazed over when your parents did the “serious talk” routine. Choose a moment when you’re both relaxed, in a good mood, and not focused on other things.

Nervous about talking to your kids about alcohol? These 5 tips helped me get through it! Check out 5 tips for talking to kids about underage drinking and find out where to get more help!

 

2. Find out what they already know, then fill in the blanks.

Before I start any important conversation with my son, I like to find out what he already knows. Sometimes he really surprises me. Our kids know more at younger ages than we did when we were children. You can start with something super simple like “what do you know about alcohol?” Then just let them talk. Don’t interrupt or correct any misconceptions until they’ve had a chance to finish.  Once you know where they stand, it’s time to fill in the blanks with the facts.

3. Consider their age and personality

Obviously, your child’s age is going to play a major role in how you direct the conversation. Telling an 8-year-old that he’ll lose his driver’s license if he’s caught drinking underage isn’t going to make much of an impact. The consequences need to be real now, not later. If your child plays sports, you could let him know that drinking underage could get him thrown off his team.

Nervous about talking to your kids about alcohol? These 5 tips helped me get through it! Check out 5 tips for talking to kids about underage drinking and find out where to get more help!

 

Along with age, personality plays a huge role in the direction of your conversation. While many kids may tune out medical facts, my son actually likes to hear them. If your child is like mine, you could let him know that underage drinking damages both the brain and the nerves that carry signals throughout the body. Even if your kids aren’t into the medical facts, let them know in layman’s terms that alcohol can mess with their mental and physical development.

4. Set firm rules and expectations

It’s important to make sure your kids know exactly where you stand on the topic of underage drinking. Throughout the rest of the conversation, you’ve kept things relatively open to discussion, but here is where you put on your serious face. Let your child know that drinking alcohol underage is never okay. Period. It’s not only against your state’s law, but against your law as well.

5. Help them come up with ways out of a bad situation

You want your child to be able to come to you if they’re ever in a situation where they’re encouraged to drink.  For example, if they’re at a party where alcohol is present, they can text you a code word and you can call their phone. They can turn to their friends and say something like, “UGH, my mom just called! She wants me home right now to help clean the garage!”

Kids want their friends’ approval. Let them “blame” you and save face with their friends while still staying safe. Once you get them out of the situation, you can figure out what to do next (like call the parents of the kid throwing the party and reevaluate your kids’ friends).

Like I said earlier, talking to your kids about underage drinking isn’t a “one and done” thing. Look for opportunities to reiterate the risks and consequences.  Be their role model and abstain from drinking yourself, at least in their presence.

One more thing: if you do keep alcohol in your home, lock it up! A whopping 7 out of 10 parents do not keep their alcohol secure. If possible, talk to the parents of your kids’ friends and make sure they’ve secured their own alcohol, too.

If you need more help learning how to talk to your kids about underage drinking, please visit KnowWhenKnowHow.org.

Did you already have this conversation with your kids? Share your experiences and tips below.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

41 thoughts on “How to Talk to Your Kids About Underage Drinking”

  1. Ryan Trinidad Santiago

    I’m glad you mentioned that the conversation should take place in a casual environment. Parents always want to exercise their authority by appearing authoritarian and formal, but their kids are unable to understand such formality and seriousness. Also, you’re right, parents must consider the personalities of their children to know the best way to deal with them.

  2. Preeti Rajnish Jha

    My kids are not that big now.They are just toddler but I would suggest this articke to all the moms who have teens and they see their teens to drink while they are still under age.Really explained well.Thank you so much
    With Love,
    The Mirror Addiction

  3. Great topic, this is really part of responsible parenting. Time to sit and discuss important matters with our young ones.

  4. I was so surprised to learn how much kids know at such a young age. It is sound important to have these talks soon and often!

  5. These are really fantastic tips. I was shocked by how young kids start trying alcohol!!! I think the key is lots of communication.

  6. I come from a culture where we drink at the age of 18, and my parents would let me try a sip of their beer when I was younger, I think parents need to be open about drinking with their kids and talk to them, because the parents that dont are the ones that have kids in trouble.

    1. Different things are acceptable in different cultures, but in Pennsylvania, underage drinking – even a sip – is illegal and often opens the door to other risky behaviors. Talking to kids – yes. Drinking with them – no, not a good idea, for all the reasons outlined in the blog

  7. I remember asking my mom about this, and got a little shy and asked my friends too. But my mom is pretty amazing that she explains to us to drink moderately especially if we’re outside.

  8. I think kids these days know a lot more than we did when we were young so its important to talk to them about this and also find out what they know

  9. I am pinning this post for the future since my kids are still very young. It is so important to have an open relationship with your kids about drinking so they can trust you and be honest and open with communication.

  10. Such an important topic to share with our kids. It can be hard as parents to always know how to start these conversations. You did a great job with sharing some wonderful tips

  11. This is a much needed discussion! You share some great tips on how to start this conversation. As parents it’s not always easy to have these kind of talks with our kids.

  12. My jaw dropped when I saw that first statistic – 8 years old?! It is so hard to swallow these kind of numbers so these are discussions we definitely have to have with our children.

  13. Great job providing tips for a rather uncomfortable conversation. A few years ago, one of the students was killed in an accident. She wasn’t drinking but the driver was. Our school district does a great job educating teens about the dangers and helping parents like me further the conversation at home.

  14. I love the tip about keeping it casual. When I had those type talks with my kids, I tried to remain calm, cool and collected. Keeping it age appropriate is a great idea too.

  15. Yup, this is an important convo to have. My son is 15 and he knows. He has autism, so he’s big on following rules, so I don’t think I have to worry about him. My daughter though? She feisty, so I’ll have to keep my eye on her and hope she makes wise choices.

  16. We talked to all our kids about this subject. In our state if you are in the car with alcohol present your in big trouble, doesn’t matter if you didn’t even have a drink. Know the laws of your state.

  17. This is such an important thing to talk with our kids about. I have already started talking with my 13 year old about it.

  18. I am so fortunate to have a 20 year old and a 16 year old who have not tried drinking. So good to have these conversations

  19. My oldest just turned 10 and we’ve been trying to talk to him about these things. So scary that this topic is happening younger and younger

  20. Texting a keyword is smart. I think it’s a good idea to come up with a code word to get them out of a situation stat.

  21. I think our children know more about alcohol and drugs than we did at their age. We watch a lot of news in our home and listen to NPR, so our son asks a lot of questions about substance abuse.

  22. Sadly, I come from a family where addiction runs rampant so we’ve had to have these talks with my girls from a very early age. It’s good to leave the lines of communication open and give them ways to get out of scary drinking situations. My girls have snuck into a bathroom to text us when underage drinking is going on so we could make up an excuse to come get them.

  23. It’s so important to have conversations started when the kids are younger. We have always had wine at our dinner table and always reinforced not to just grab a glass and drink it (even though we didn’t leave it laying around) we also never made a big deal about it and also let them hear how someone acted like a fool because they drank alcohol. I really think each child is different and each conversation is different. My biggest fear was when they got to college and binging- thankfully that didn’t happen

  24. We have always been in conversation with our kids about alcohol as well as drugs. I am pretty sure the first time my oldest tried alcohol was in Germany with us, and she was 21! It’s frightening to see kids are drinking at such a young age.

  25. Wow, I had no idea kids would try to drink so early. That’s crazy. My 11 year old daughter told me she would be drinking wine when she turns 21 and I was mortified at that. I was hoping to hear 30s, 40’s or never. This is a conversation we definitely need to touch with kids. They grow up too fast.

  26. This is one of the important talks to have with children. I approached it in the same way as the sex talk – honestly and openly.

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