How to Talk About Underage Drinking


Written by Dr. Shannon

When was the last time you spoke to your teen about drinking?  This may include your drinking, their drinking or just the topic in general.  This may seem like a silly question, but in fact it is an extremely important and often overlooked step in combating underage drinking.

In working with parents, I find that few have actually spoken directly to their child about the topic.

Those who have discussed the topic admit to doing so on one or two occasions, but then never again.  It seems to be a difficult subject to approach and yet it is so important in influencing your teen’s behavior. The problem is that parents are not asking the teen directly and aren’t engaging in regular discussions about the topic. We need to change this and

start discussing the topic more openly and more regularly.

First it is important for you to express your desire directly. Tell your child you do not want them drinking and explain why.  The goal is not to get into a power struggle but to set clear expectations about their choices.  Just because you set a clear boundary does not mean they will stick to it but it does improve the chances that they will make good choices.

Also consider your own actions as you are asking them to consider theirs.  If you tell them not to drink but then they witness you repeatedly drinking excessively, then they are less likely to respect your boundary.  This does not mean you can never drink, but rather that encourages you to make appropriate choices as an example to your child.

Finally, continue to educate your child by openly and frequently bringing up the subject.  Do not lecture but rather invite discussion by asking questions.  By asking questions you give them a chance to share what they know and you get insight into their thoughts and feelings about the subject.  Ask them what they know about alcohol. Ask them when the last time was that someone offered them a drink.  Ask how they handled the situation.  You can even practice with them so they get comfortable turning down a drink.

You may even notice changes in how they discuss it with you.  A change in their openness may indicate a change in their drinking habits. These changes can alert you to potential problems or reassure you of their obedience to your boundaries.

Ideally you can continue these conversations with enough regularity that your child knows what you expect of them and know that they can approach you if, and when, they need to.  The goal is to create safety around the subject.  You do not want your silence to imply consent so do not be silent on the subject.  Get educated so that you can educate them about underage drinking.



Dr. Shannon is a committed, focused and experienced dually licensed clinician, educator and clinical supervisor with 20+ years of clinical experience.