Did You Know
Maintaining A Conversation Throughout The Years
The Alcohol Talk is an ongoing dialogue that starts when the child is young and develops as they grow up.
We asked teens, parents, and experts if there are key times when they think alcohol should be discussed. All agreed there are certain life milestones that call for The Alcohol Talk, as well as occasions that lend themselves to the conversation.
According to our studies, most parents (60%) believe the middle school years are the right time to begin discussing alcohol with their child, while 64% of teens say that fifth grade or younger is when they first became aware of alcohol. Our research with experts supports having The Alcohol Talk early and often, as most children first see alcohol at preschool or grade-school ages.
Parents should encourage their children to approach them with any questions or concerns they have related to alcohol. But parents should also be aware of — and prepared for — key life milestones when alcohol education can be reinforced.
See what our experts said and be prepared.
Seeing an Adult with Alcohol
It's likely that a child's first exposure to alcohol will be when a parent or other adult is drinking, whether in their home, at a party, or elsewhere. Parents should expect questions, as their child will probably be curious. At this young age, parents don't need to go into detail, but they should communicate that alcohol is for adults only and that if people drink too much they can get sick, lose control, or do dangerous and embarrassing things that they normally wouldn't do. The moments when children first notice adults drinking alcohol can be used to have educational and informative conversations.
- When children observe someone with an alcoholic beverage, explain that these products are for adults only.
- Explain that alcohol can be especially dangerous to those under the legal drinking age.
- Prior to attending a celebration, proactively communicate to your children that they might see adults lose control of their words and actions due to excessive alcohol consumption
- If your child sees someone intoxicated, use this as a teachable moment. Communicate that the adult acted irresponsibly as a result of drinking too much.
Alcohol Education in School
Parents not only should stay engaged with their child about their life and school experiences, but also with what they're learning in school about alcohol. For example, class and assembly programs about drinking will present openings to have The Alcohol Talk at home. Ask your child questions about the school program on alcohol — what it covers and what your child thinks about drinking. Schools educate early and often, and since children are already learning about alcohol in school, parents can use these occasions as teaching moments. One of the best ways parents can facilitate an open and informative conversation is to complement what's taught in the classroom by sharing their own personal opinions and experiences about drinking.
- Get to know the school curriculum and when it will be taught so you know what topics are being discussed and when to raise the topic with your child.
- Complement what's being taught in school programs about drinking with your own, one-on-one conversations.
- Listen to your child's perspective on what he or she is learning about alcohol in school so you can discuss it throughout the school year.
- By discussing any experiences they may have had with alcohol as a teen, parents can establish greater credibility with their child, who in turn can relate to, and learn from, those experiences.
Seeing Alcohol-Related Content on Television
Television shows, movies, and relevant news stories, such as a celebrity being arrested for a DUI, provide excellent opportunities to discuss the dangers of alcohol. Finding natural openings to have The Alcohol Talk gives teenagers a sense of comfort, while giving parents a chance to hear their teen''s perspective on alcohol. Parents should communicate the consequences of irresponsible drinking, including both legal consequences and how lives can be put in danger. Now that the child is a teen, the conversation should focus on current or upcoming experiences and concerns such as peer pressure, drunk driving, parties, and so on.
- Be involved in your child's entertainment choices so that you know what they are seeing and hearing about alcohol.
- Watch movies or TV together. When drinking-related situations arise, such as a celebrity receiving a DUI, explain why they were arrested.
- Ask teens their opinion on what they are seeing.
- Ask teens if they know anyone who has gone through a similar situation and ask them how they'd handle it.
- Explain the legal consequences of various drinking scenarios.
- Explain that alcohol can have a dangerous impact on people's lives.
Entering Middle School
The start of middle school is a key milestone, as this is often the time when experimentation begins and peer pressure starts, potentially leading to the use of alcohol. Facing peer pressure is a big part of being a teenager. To help your children combat peer pressure, they should focus on their goals rather than worry about what everyone else is doing.
- Explain to your teen that he/she should expect greater peer pressure when in social situations.
- Discuss how your teen would handle different situations and what they would think of friends who drink.
- Emphasize how important it is for your teen to set and achieve goals, and how bad decisions about drinking and other issues could affect those goals.
Entering High School
Entering high school is a major milestone in a child's life. Not only are teens establishing their own identities, but they also are entering a whole new world of "adult" experiences, such as driving, dating and forming social groups. Importantly, beginning in freshman and sophomore years, peer pressure has an increasing impact on the decisions teens make about everything from selecting friends and fashions, to participating in risky behaviors.
Teens feel the most pressure to succumb to group behavior when they are trying to fit in. As a parent, it is important to validate this pressure, simply telling your teen to say "no" is not enough. Asking teens about peer pressure – how they and their friends deal with it and some of the tough choices it presents on a daily basis — gives teens the opportunity to think through situations and feel comfortable with their choices.
Most parents and experts also agree it is important during this period of personal growth and exploration for teens to understand the consequences of their decisions. Specifically, parents need to make clear their disapproval of underage drinking and drunk driving, including punishments they will receive for bad decisions. By taking firm stances at this age, parents can help teens develop their own values that enable them to make fast, positive decisions in a peer pressure situation.
Teens who feel supported by their parents tend to have higher self-esteem. Higher self-esteem helps kids feel confident when faced with taking a stand against peer pressure and making better life choices.
- Entering high school, a teen confronts a range of adult experiences. Make sure you take advantage of every opportunity to discuss issues like peer pressure, drinking and reckless driving. Frequency is key.
- For example, if your teen is going out with friends, ask how he/she would handle different situations that might arise involving risky behaviors. Actively listen and empathize, rather than just lecture.
- Explain various alternatives to participating in social group situations involving alcohol; e.g., holding an empty cup, drinking an alternative beverage or making up a medical excuse ("I'm taking medication").
- Parents should encourage teens to talk to their friends about pressure situations that could involve risky behavior. Often, teens will admit to each other they don't want to do something, which makes it easier for both of them to resist.
- Always know where your teen is going and with whom. Never be afraid to check with other parents to ensure that a party in a private home will be supervised by responsible adults.
- Communicate the serious consequences, both legal and personal, of underage drinking and drunk driving.
Establishing Code Words
It's essential for parents and teens to develop a trusted connection, starting when children are young and continuing into their teen years. Keeping the lines of communication open may not come easy, but doing so will pay off when challenges arise.
As teens come into their own as young adults, they'll increasingly spend more time with their friends, but parents should always be available to help deal with any issues that may arise.
For example, should teens come across unwanted situations at a party or other gathering, they should be comfortable asking their parents for help. Establish a code word that can be texted, emailed or spoken in a call that means,
Come get me immediately. I am in an uncomfortable situation.
Using a code word should come with the understanding that the teen will not need to discuss the situation until later. Parents should praise their teen for acting responsibly and reaffirm that their safety is always the top priority.
- Develop and maintain a connection with your child so they feel comfortable calling you if they need help.
- Accept that your child may increasingly want to spend time with their peers, but be accessible in case they need you.
- Should teens find themselves in an unfortunate situation, offer positive reinforcement for contacting you. Their safety is the top priority.
- Wait until the next day to discuss the incident, when all parties are calm and level-headed.
Proms and attending after-parties are another important life experience during high school that can magnify peer pressure and encourage potentially risky behaviors. Often, teens use their prom as an opportunity to dress and act like an adult — sometimes including drinking or sexual activity — but without knowing the consequences of such behavior.
As soon as prom dates are announced, parents should begin discussing the pressures teens could face, like drinking at an after-party. When talking about prom night, parents should share their own experiences, reiterate the consequences of making the wrong decisions, and ask for the teen’s input when talking through scenarios they might encounter.
Make sure you and your teen talk through all the prom details: who he/she is going with, how they’re getting to and from the prom, where they’ll be after the prom, and whether there will be adult supervision at any after-party. And, always check with other parents to make sure you — and they — know about these plans.
- Talk to teens about the increased peer pressure and temptations that often come with prom season, such as drinking at the after-party.
- Share personal stories about the prom and get the teen's perspective on what will happen at their prom — before, during, and after. Talk through situations they might encounter and come up with possible solutions together.
- If you are concerned about transportation, consider offering to pay for a limousine or taxi for the prom night, or provide your teen with the number of a reliable taxi service and money for the fare.
- Be informed of the prom and after-party details. Make sure you and your teen talk about who they'll be with and where they'll be. Establish check-ins throughout the night by cell phone.
- Check the details of your teen's plans for the evening with other parents to insure there will be adult supervision.
- Arm your teen with tools: let them know you'll pick them up, no questions asked, if they find themselves in a harmful or uncomfortable situation.
- Communicate the serious consequences of actions such as underage drinking and drunk driving.