Parenting Teenagers:
Having a Conversation About Alcohol

See also: Teenagers and Alcohol

Being a teenager is tough – and so is being the parent of a teenager. There’s so much you want to talk to them about, but it seems like every conversation accidentally turns into a lecture because they just don’t want to participate. If you’re trying to have a chat about weekend plans, that may not be such a problem. However, for more important topics like alcohol, however, this could represent a bit of a roadblock.

Abusing alcohol is alarmingly common with teens, and even though the numbers have improved in the last decade, they could still use a lot of work.

Close up of a cold glass of lager.

Teenagers who haven’t had responsible alcohol consumption modeled for them at home may fall into addictive patterns; if that happens, the best option may be to get them professional help. For example, Zoe Behavioral Health has an alcohol and drug treatment center in Lake Forest that uses science-based treatments to help their patients overcome addiction.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, though. If you’re concerned about the way your teen perceives (and possibly consumes) alcohol, it’s important to approach the subject with nuance and sensitivity. You can’t just tell them what you want them to think and expect them to absorb your perspective; they need to feel like you’re actually on their side.

If you want your teen to believe you, you have to believe yourself

One of the most important things you can do to send your teen down a more responsible path is to be responsible yourself. When you drink, do you regularly overindulge, or do you enjoy yourself in moderation? Do you use alcohol as a way to cope with problems? Do you pressure friends to drink, or tease them when they don’t? Do you discount the dangers of drinking and driving?

All of these things and more will lay the foundation in your teen’s mind that these behaviors are normal – even though they really shouldn’t be seen as such. Even if you or your partner isn’t currently modeling a healthy relationship with alcohol, your teenager should know that this is a problem, and ideally see the problem being addressed through appropriate treatment options.

In a nutshell, if a teen sees one or both parents using alcohol inappropriately, and then gets told “don’t drink because that’s an irresponsible choice”, there’s only a miniscule chance that they’ll take the advice to heart. If, on the other hand, they’ve seen their parents use alcohol responsibly, they’re less likely to give in to peer pressure if the opportunity to drink comes up.

Rather than giving instructions, share your own experiences

Kids of all ages can smell hypocrisy from a mile away; if you start lecturing them about things you did yourself, they aren’t likely to respect your approach. Instead, talk to them about your own experiences, mistakes, and regrets. This gives them a more honest picture, and reminds them that you haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be their age. Here are a few more tips to consider using:

  • Establish a firm family position on how alcohol is used. For example, “social drinking is fine if you’re 21 or older, but alcohol shouldn’t be used as a coping mechanism”.

  • Let them know that turning down alcohol doesn’t make them a weirdo; they don’t have to do it just because everyone else is.

  • Respect their counter-arguments, and engage with their feelings and concerns. Make it a two-sided conversation, not a lecture.

  • Arm yourself with relevant facts and statistics. A good place to start would be information related to the health effects of alcohol consumption, plus statistics on addictive behaviors; it could be eye-opening for them to learn that alcohol consumption as a teen could affect their quality of life later on. If your teen has questions, look up the answers together.

  • Make sure your deeds match your words. For example, if you’re telling them that peer pressure isn’t a valid reason to drink, don’t try to tease your own friends into drinking.

Try to go beyond “just say no”

Even though it’s important for them to hear that it’s best to say no to alcohol, that concept alone won’t be enough to get them on board. Here are a few ways to make the idea seem more realistic:

  • Let them know that you’re always available to be their exit strategy, no questions asked. If your teen ends up in a situation where they’re being pressured to drink, knowing that their ride out of there is just a phone call away can make it easier for them to say no.

  • Explain that they’re their own person, and if they want to be the only one at a party who isn’t drinking, they can do that. They could also pretend to partake, or bring their own non-alcoholic beverage.

  • They could use excuses like “I have to get up early tomorrow for soccer practice”, or “I don’t want my coach to bench me”.

  • They could even use their parents as an excuse – “my parents would ground me for a year if they thought I’d been drinking”.

  • They could avoid people or situations that are likely to involve drinking.

  • Rather than going with the flow (if that means drinking), they could suggest other options like picking up some takeout, shopping, or sports.

What do the statistics say?

One 2020 study shed some light on the drinking habits of teenagers. Around 21% of 8th graders, 40% of 10th graders, and 55% of high school seniors reported trying alcohol at some point in the last year. As for binge drinking, this was reported by 5% of 8th graders, 10% of 10th graders, and 17% of high school seniors.

It’s pretty clear that too many teenagers are getting their hands on alcohol, but you can equip your teen to handle the burden of peer pressure by giving them tools to combat it. This, together with a balanced perspective on alcohol, will certainly help them navigate the temptations that come their way, and hopefully set them up for a healthy relationship with alcohol in the future as well.

About the Author

Lauren is a Texas native who has appreciated the craft of good writing from a young age. If she isn’t working on her latest writing project, she’ll probably be busy sewing, trying a new cheesemaking technique, or fermenting something tasty.