How to Talk to Kids about Underage Drinking

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and The Motherhood  is working on a project with The Century Council to kick-start an online conversation about underage drinking and how we can  address this tough topic with our kids. This post is sponsored as part of that  initiative.  

Recently,  I participated in a webinar and conversation with the Motherhood and several other bloggers to learn about underage drinking, and discuss ways we can talk to our kids about underage drinking. Clinical psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Anthony E. Wolf  joined us to share his expert advice on talking with kids about underage drinking. Dr. Wolf’s two most recognizable books are: “Mom, Jason’s Breathing on Me!” and Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall” Don’t you just love the titles?

With a 15-year-old at home and three other kids not far behind him underage drinking is definitely one of the concerns I have for my children. We all know the concerns. Beyond growth and development in young kids, drinking and driving is a major concern (though thankfully it is on the decline), and the bad choices and dangerous situations alcohol can cause are all reasons why it is of paramount importance to teach kids about underage drinking.

Dr. Wolf provided us with insight on how to talk to kids about underage drinking, but also took the time to answer our questions. Below is a summary of our discussion.

Why Talking about Underage Drinking is Important

Parents have a bigger influence on kids than they think!

  • Don’t be discouraged if teenagers don’t talk at all or talk back when trying to have a conversation.
  • Parents’ attachment to kids is powerful your words will stay in kids’ heads.
  • As a parent you love and care about your kids more than anyone in the world – don’t want them to drink, that is powerful for your child.

Too many parents are ambivalent about underage drinking.  Parents need to be extremely aware of the dangers of underage drinking including:

  • Drinking and driving
  • Increase the risk for STDs, pregnancy
  • Increase crime and violence

Advice to Talk to Kids about Underage Drinking

Use resources like The Century Council’s website for information to be better prepared for kid’s questions.

When having conversations with kids, make sure to get their full attention.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask teenagers to put down whatever they’re doing to talk.
  • A good opportunity for conversation is in the car when driving or in the child’s room.

Keep talking, even when it feels like “you’re talking to zombie.” (This one had us laughing, since it’s familiar to any parent of a tween or teen!)

Rise above the teenager’s attitude.  Giving attitude back to teenagers will only create more disrespect and back talk. Not picking up on the attitude also shows that you love them beyond their attitude or grumpiness.

Start the conversation in a straightforward way.  Dr. Wolf shared, “It’s okay to simply say, ‘I want to talk to you about drinking.’ Or ‘I’m worried about you and underage drinking.’

It’s an adult subject that should be approached accordingly.  He recommends using an adult ‘voice’ and manner.

Listen.  The number one complaint from kids is that parents don’t listen. Listen, and don’t criticize or correct kids when they’re talking.

Ask questions to keep conversation going or to get them to open up. For instance, Dr. Wolf recommends instead of asking them to talk about themselves, have teenagers talk about their friends and alcohol.  Examples: “What do you think are the risks of drinking?”or “Why do kids your age drink?”

Don’t encourage kids to make excuses for not drinking, but instead teach them to firmly say no to peers.  The problem with blaming parents and other excuses is that the pressure may increase or continue.

How I Talk to My Kids & My Questions Answered

Growing up my parents discussed drinking and underage drinking with us, but also had a no questions asked policy regarding our safety. They encouraged us to call anytime we needed a ride whether it was due to our own bad choices or say a friend who drove us choosing to drink at a party. I asked Dr. Wolf what he thought of this policy, and his response is below.

“I like it. This probably saves kids in a lot of situations. It also gives the message that safety – including not drinking and driving – is such an important issue that the parents are willing to say, even if you are drinking, you won’t get in trouble for it, as long as you’re not driving.”  

We also have a history of alcoholism in our family as many people do, so I was curious what the best way to discuss alcoholism with kids, and at what age would be appropriate. It has come up naturally with two of our kids, but I know it’s something many parents struggle with sharing with their own children.

Dr. Wolf: It’s important to let kids know that there are people for whom drinking alcohol can be a serious problem, and too much of it can control their lives. You can get into the possible genetic factors too, if you want. But they should know [alcoholism is] less about whether it’s their fault or not and more that it is a serious problem out there.  

Knowing the age when to talk can be determined by whether or not there are people in their lives that struggle with alcoholism. Kids with an uncle who gets drunk every Thanksgiving and Christmas should probably be aware of it sooner than others. The bottom line is that, by the time they are teenagers, they should know the effects of alcoholism and that it’s a real thing. Certainly no later than 12-13 years old.

How We Talk to Our Kids

I was not only impressed with Dr. Wolf’s advice and his input as a parent, but also the resources shared by the Century Council. We found that an ideal time to discuss alcohol was during as the kids learned about it in school. They came home with questions and information and we discussed what they learned.

As with every important topic in life (money and sex included) these are not one time conversations with our kids. We share age-appropriate (and this depends greatly on each child’s  temperament) information with them, answer their questions, and as situations arise in life we find opportune ‘teaching moments’ to open the discussion up again and again.

On a personal note I think our attitude towards alcohol effects our children. My husband has never had alcohol, and at a certain age the kids notice and ask him about it. It’s a great opening for him to talk to them. However I keep some wine in the house and drink occasionally, so we discuss why I drink and we find another opportunity to talk about drinking in moderation.

Twitter Party Tomorrow!

Join us for a twitter party on Wednesday the 17th at 1p ET using #TalkEarly.

I hope you’ll come by and discuss this important topic and ask your own questions. You can participate using the TweetGrid for the Twitter party  or just use TweetChat to follow along and respond.

Hope to see you there!


Disclosure:  April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and  The Motherhood  is working on a project with  The Century Council  to kick-start an online conversation about underage drinking and how we can  address this tough topic with our kids. This post is sponsored as part of that  initiative.

About Kelly

Kelly Whalen is the founder and editor of the Centsible Life blog. She started the blog 6 years ago as her family faced a mountain of debt. The blog became a resource to readers and a hub for everything you need in life for less. Kelly lives in the Philadelphia area with her superhero husband, 4 awesome kids, and one adorable dog. She still believes you can have it all....just not all at once.

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