Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Drinking
Talking to your teenager about drinking is very important, but parents can feel nervous and intimidated about what to say. Read on for expert advice and general tips for talking to your teen about alcohol.
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"Try to help the child understand better what it is that most often tempts him to use alcohol,” advises Suniya Luthar, PhD., Professor of Clinical and Developmental Psychology at Columbia University. “Are they trying to fit in? Reduce stress? Feel relaxed? Try to work together to address the concerns identified.” Once you determine why he’s tempted to drink, then you can help him fight those triggers by finding other ways to reduce stress, relax, or fight peer pressure.
Tell the Truth
If your child asks if you’ve abused alcohol in the past, don’t lie. “If you drank as a teen, tell them so, but tell them also that it didn’t do you any good,” says Michael Fishman, M.D., director of the young adults program at Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta, Georgia. “And make sure you are clear about your expectations for them and what the rules of the house are.”
Set and Enforce Rules
Many parents feel that by taking away car keys, or allowing the teen to drink only in their home, this will eliminate the risk for harm. Fishman disagrees. “It doesn’t make sense to tell your 19-year-old to drink at home where you can keep an eye on him. That’s a confusing message and it doesn’t work.” Set clear no-tolerance boundaries, and make sure you’re consistent in enforcing them.
Don’t Minimize the Issue
Teens with parents who are tolerant of their children’s substance abuse are the ones who report the most frequent, regular use of alcohol and drugs. “A lot of parents delude themselves into thinking that everyone is doing it,” Fishman says. “Don’t project your own denial onto your child. If you drank as a teenager and grew out of it with no problems, don’t minimize the potential danger when talking to your son or daughter.”
Discuss the Consequences
Discuss real-world consequences of drinking and drunk driving that teens can relate to. Your child may lose her place on the team or her scholarship. If she drives drunk, she could have her license revoked, it could show up on her record when applying for a job, or she could hurt someone else.
Promote Open Communication
Remember: It’s hard for your teen to talk to you about alcohol, too, so let him know you’re here to listen and help. Encourage communication by asking open ended questions, showing him that you care and understand. And even though you may get upset or frustrated, always control your emotions.
Get Expert Advice
If you ever feel overwhelmed, don't hesitate to seek expert advice. Help can be as close as your nearest school, counseling center, or hospital, and many communities offer free classes and support groups for families.