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Parents: 9 Ways to Help Your Child Steer Clear of Underage Drinking

Most teens see alcohol used and promoted throughout their lives. Whether it’s a parent’s glass of wine at a restaurant, a sidewalk sign advertising happy hour or a TV ad promoting low-carb beer, alcohol is a nearly unavoidable part of our culture. So, it’s understandable that teens would be curious. The fact that they aren’t supposed to drink alcohol until age 21 (in the United States) may make it more intriguing.

As a parent, it’s your job to educate your teen about drinking alcoholic beverages. That way, when they’re out in the world without your supervision, they can make healthy choices. Here are nine ways you can help prevent underage drinking with your own kids:

  1. Stay connected with your teen. Teens are busy with school, extracurricular activities, work and family responsibilities. And they may not seem as interested in spending time with you as they were when they were younger. Make an effort to have meals together as a family and check in with them regularly. “Teens who feel more connected to their parents are less likely to make choices they know their parents wouldn’t support,” said Srinivas Dannaram, MD, a psychiatrist with Banner Health.
  2. Discuss drinking regularly. Like talking about sex, talking about drinking alcohol should be an ongoing conversation. Speaking openly and honestly allows teens to feel safe and comfortable so they can continue asking questions as new issues arise. “‘One and done’ does not cover the many facets of this issue,” Dr. Dannaram said.
  3. Make sure your kids know you don’t want them drinking. Communicate regularly that you do not support underage drinking. Make this message clear in a supportive, loving way. You can say things like, “We love you so much that we don’t want to see you drink. We want to protect you.” Set clear consequences in the case that this rule is broken.
  4. Know where your child will be. Unfortunately, many teens lie and sneak around to drink. Plus, some parents think it’s okay to allow their teens—and other people’s children—to drink at home. Make sure you know where your teens are, who they are with, who’s supervising them and how those adults view underage drinking.
  5. Monitor social media. On social media, many teens will share, confess and openly discuss things they might not communicate in person. Periodically look at your teen’s social media accounts to ensure they’re not posting anything that indicates they might be drinking.
  6. Role play. Some teens, and even some parents, might find role-playing uncomfortable, but it can be helpful. You can play the role of the aggressive partying kid, and your teen can practice having to turn down alcohol. “Sometimes in the midst of peer pressure, teens freeze up and don’t know what to say, but a little practice and a simple script can help them say, ‘No thank you,’” Dr. Dannaram said.
  7. Educate yourself about underage and binge drinking. Look through the great resources for parents available at and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for preventing teen drinking. “The more you know, the better able you will be to identify and hopefully prevent such behavior,” Dr. Dannaram said.
  8. Be an example. Enjoying a glass of wine or beer with dinner is one thing, but if your kids have witnessed you drinking too much, they can lock those images away in their minds. If you drink, set a good example as a responsible drinker. “Parents who drink more and view drinking favorably may have children who drink more,” Dr. Dannaram said.
  9. Stay diligent. Never assume that your teen is out of the woods or not susceptible to the pressure or practice of binge or underage drinking. Even responsible teens sometimes make bad choices. “Remaining diligent about drinking is one of the best ways we can love our teens,” Dr. Dannaram said. 

What can make teens more likely to have problems with alcohol use?

“There’s a complex interplay of inherited, social and environmental factors behind drinking, alcohol-related problem behavior and alcohol use disorder,” Dr. Dannaram said. We know that some factors can increase a person’s risk. Tolerance to alcohol’s effects may be linked directly to genetic factors. And being a child of an alcoholic or having several alcoholic family members places a person at greater risk for alcohol problems. 

“Children of alcoholics are between four and 10 times more likely to become alcoholics than children who have no close relatives with alcoholism,” Dr. Dannaram said. “Children of alcoholics also are more likely to begin drinking at a young age and to progress to drinking problems more quickly.”

You may see these personality characteristics in children who begin drinking at a very young age, before age 12. They may:

  • Be disruptive, hyperactive and aggressive—often referred to as having conduct problems or being antisocial
  • Be depressed, withdrawn or anxious 
  • Be rebellious or engage in risky behavior
  • Have difficulty avoiding harm or harmful situations
  • Act out without regard for rules or the feelings of others

The bottom line

Teens see people who drink, alcohol consumption and alcohol messaging throughout their lives. As a parent, you can guide them toward avoiding alcohol use and making smart choices. It may not seem like it, but young people watch their parents and listen to what they say. To learn more about communicating with your teen about drinking and watching for warning signs, connect with a behavioral health specialist or call Banner Behavioral Health at 1-800-254-4357

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