Ask Dr. JPL: Tween Talk

Ask Dr. JPL: Tween Talk



My 12-year-old son and his friends are always joking around about drinking. They seem to talk a lot about getting “drunk, plastered, passing out, doing shots, chugging beers,” and I am not sure what I should do or say. Every time I re-direct him or express concern, he tells me to “lighten up.” He insists they are just kidding around and it doesn’t mean anything. Any advice on how I should handle the situation?


Take the opportunity to use these situations as interactive teaching moments. Instead of simply re-directing your son and his friends, challenge them. Empower them by asking their honest opinion about underage drinking. Ask them if they know any kids who are drinking. Ask them how they would handle alcohol-related situations. What would they do, for example, if a bunch of their friends tried to pressure them into drinking?

You may also want to talk with his friends’ parents about your concerns. This way you can take a unified approach to talking with the boys.

It is also important to talk with your son privately. Let him know why these ‘jokes’ are concerning. Encourage him to see it from your point of view – this will help him understand why it is upsetting to you.

Sometimes the best way to hit a point home is to attach a rule and set a clear consequence. For example, the rule in this situation might be “you can not joke around with your friends about drinking.” Ask your son to help you come up with a consequence. This will help him feel more like he has some say in setting the rules. A suggested consequence could be to limit his access to electronics such as tablets, computers, hand held games, video games, etc. for a day. Although your son may not understand why this is such a “big deal,” a consequence will help shape his behavior. It will send the message that this is something that matters. While he cannot control what his other friends say, tell him you expect him to re-direct any such conversations by changing the subject or simply telling his friends to stop saying these things.

Take the time to his strategize with your son. Explain to him that he may face challenging alcohol-related situations in the future. Discussing a response plan now could save him anxiety in the future.

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Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder is one of the tween, teen and parenting experts that participated in the focus groups that helped form the new educational campaign and website, Her expertise and vast experience were also tapped for much of the advice and guidance included on the site. Her unique understanding of the communication techniques necessary for The Alcohol Talk to effectively take place make her an ideal spokesperson for the campaign. Dr. Powell-Lunder is a clinical psychologist specializing in work with tweens, teens, young adults, and their families. She is co-author of the book Teenage as a Second Language (Adams Media 2010) and the creator of, an interactive and informational website for parents and tweens, and co-creator of, an interactive informational website for the parents of teenagers. Jennifer is a regular contributor for outlets including Psychology Today, Parenting Magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, GalTime, KnowMoreTV, Examiner, and North Texas Kids. She has also been featured in The Huffington Post, Yahoo, AOL’s ParentDish, Mamapedia and many other blogs and websites. As a parenting expert on both radio and television programs including NPR’s Talk of the Nation, NBC’s TODAY in New York, Better TV and WCBS, FOX and ABC affiliates, Jennifer talks about tween, teen and parenting issues. She was profiled in Westchester Magazine’s January 2012 feature on ‘People to Watch Jennifer is a published researcher, in-demand speaker and consultant on tween, teen, and young adult issues. She spent almost a decade as a Program Director of an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit at a private psychiatric hospital in the Northeast where she now serves as Senior Clinical Liaison. She is also an adjunct professor of psychology at Pace University. Jennifer sits on the Board of Directors for Family Ties, a non-profit family advocacy agency serving Westchester County, NY and maintains a private outpatient practice in Bedford Hills, NY.

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