How To Talk With Your Kids About Underage Drinking


How to talk with your kids about underage drinkingHow early did you have your first experience with socially drinking alcohol?  Were you under the legal drinking age?  (I am guessing that I probably know the answer to that one.)  Now that you are a parent and know the effects of drinking too much alcohol, where you stand on underage drinking when it comes to your own kids?

Last week I attended a webinar hosted by The Century Council and clinical psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Anthony E. Wolf about talking with kids about underage drinking.  With April being Alcohol Awareness Month, this was the perfect time for a conversation about underage drinking and how we as parents can address this tricky topic with our kids.

Though experimenting with alcohol and underage drinking may seem harmless to some, according to the CDC, alcohol is the single most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States.  Underage drinking results in more than 4,700 deaths each year. In 2010 alone, there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by people under age 21 related to alcohol use.

Though pretty much everyone is in agreement about the hazards of drinking and driving, a lot of how we as parents will approach the subject of underage drinking with our kids will be based on our own family history with alcohol, our kids’ individual personalities and our relationships with them. For example, families that experienced a serious alcohol dependency or other addictions are likely to address the topic from a very different perspective than other families.

Knowing the age when to talk can be determined by whether or not there are people in their lives that struggle with alcoholism.  Regardless of a family history, by the time they are teenagers, kids should know the potential effects of drinking too much alcohol.  Among other concerns, underage drinking can lead to impaired driving, increased risk for pregnancy or STD’s and increased risk of violent behavior. Additionally, when teenagers turn to drinking for fun, they often develop a pattern of not knowing how to find fun socially outside of drinking.

From my own experience I will be able to empathize with the feeling that if my kids choose not to drink they might feel like they are letting their friends down and it will change their friendships.  It is a topic we discussed quite a bit with Dr. Wolf.  This is a common fear people have when saying no to drinking, and we should recognize this is partly true. Typically what ends up happening is that when teenagers say no, they will rearrange their group of friends to people with similar values and end up with peers they are more comfortable around anyway.  Also, if kids can confidently say no for themselves without making their friends feel self-conscious about their own decisions, most of the time peers will eventually stop pressuring them to drink.  It is actually when the friends feel awkward that they might shut out your child, and helping your child to understand that may alleviate his or her discomfort with saying no.

When it comes to talking with your kids about underage drinking, Dr. Wolf said to make sure it is a two-way conversation. The single most common complaint kids have about their parents at that age is that they do not listen.  Let your children talk too.  Do not jump in while they are talking and do not try to correct or criticize their opinions.  It’s not an argument, it’s a conversation; open up to a two-way conversation, listening when they do talk.  If they shut you out when you address them directly, talk about kids in general rather than singling out your child.

Together you can role play ways for your child to say no when offered alcohol in a social setting.  You can talk about how to approach a range of uncomfortable situations, from peer pressure to drunk driving.  By doing so, not only will your child gain more confidence you are letting your child know that he or she can feel comfortable asking you questions or contacting you when faced with those situations.

Already I have a sneaking suspicion as to which of my children will be more likely to refrain from underage drinking (but be concerned about the peer pressure) and which one is more likely to give us a run for our money.  Though the teenage years and discussions like these will be tricky, I am hopeful that keeping an open dialogue with my kids will have a positive impact on their decision-making with regards to underage drinking and so much more.

If you want to learn more about getting prepared to talk with your kid about underage drinking, go to The Century Council’s website for information.  You can also follow the conversation on Twitter via #TalkEarly or by following @AskListenLearn.

Have you approached the subject of drinking under the age of 21 with your children yet?


Many thanks to The Motherhood and The Century Council for the opportunity to work on this sponsored post campaign. I am so proud to be a part of it!


  1. I know we are still a bit way off from this issue but I already have to catch myself when I’m “not listening” to my kids. I want to be a good listener now so they will talk to me then!

  2. Im so so so dreading this…and grateful my child still has 14 years till she’s 21 and about….5 till the talk :-)

  3. This subject has been on my mind since the death of a 15 year girl has been in the news here.

    What is the right age to start having the discussion with your kids?

  4. This is definitely going to be a difficult conversation for us since my dh is a recovering alcoholic. So far, my oldest son has been open to the discussion, and he understands why he shouldn’t be drinking or smoking right now. He’s pretty good about sticking to his decisions and not being swayed by others.

  5. Okay, to sound weird, I didn’t drink until I reached my 21st B-day… no, really. It was a choice made easy by my group of friends. I did know many peers already drinking by the end of Jr. High. I know the “just don’t do it” philosophy can fall on deaf ears. I hope to give my kids the info to understand why they should wait. But at 4 and 5, I have a few years before needing to seriously address it.

  6. Neither my husband nor I have ever drank (or even tried) alcohol. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it is against our code of health to drink alcohol. As a teen and young adult I never even felt alcohol was a temptation. My friends knew I didn’t drink and they never pushed me to drink, or even offered me a drink. I’m hoping that we can raise our children to choose the same alcohol-free lifestyle and to be confident in their decision. I think that this, like many subjects, is important to talk about early and regularly in our kids lives.

  7. Thanks for this, it’s an important topic. I actually had to talk to my 9 year old about this a few months ago when alcohol enemas at colleges were all over the news. Ugh!

  8. I’m quite a few years away from having this discussion with my daughter (she’s 4 this month), but it’s such an important conversation, that I will store these nuggets of info away for the right time. Thanks for covering this issue.

  9. I never drank alcohol at all before I was about 22. I was not then and am not now a drinker so these issues are easy for me. I started talking to my children about all the big things, sex, drug and drinking when they were three or so. I told them things truthfully in age appropriate language and context so we could expand on the narratives as they grew older.

  10. So far W isn’t really a peer pressure kind of guy. But there is a long way to go. I do know that I am a talk it out kind of Mama – so he will be sick of me talking about EVERYTHING!

  11. Yes, I definitely discussed this with my kids. I was terrible in high school, so I kinda learned from that and knew how I wanted to approach the topic. As it turns out, my kids were vocal public champions for NOT drinking under age. Now that they’re OF age, they do drink but they are adamant about not driving, not being with someone who drives after drinking and as an extension…..not texting while driving. Neither of them will even answer their phone while in the car!

  12. My oldest is 9 and casually we have started to talk about different types of pressures.

  13. My children are still young, so we have not broached under age drinking yet. But, these tips go for a lot of those “tough” subjects and they are great ones to follow. I definitely need to practice listening better and not jumping in. A great post Jessica…

  14. I will start talking to him about this when he is in middle school. That is when it seems others are trying it.

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