Underage drinking is an issue that affects any family with a teenager in the household. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 8.7 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported current alcohol consumption in the United States—and when teenagers drink, they’re not sipping cocktails through a straw. They binge, downing drink after drink for the sole purpose of getting drunk. More than 90 percent of alcohol consumed by underage drinks is through binge drinking, state the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which increases the risk for brain damage, sexual assault and violence, and fatal accidents.
Several factors play into why underage drinkers resort to alcohol for comfort or socialization, which is why parents need to take the time to have open discussions with their teenage children about alcohol abuse. For many parents, it may feel daunting to approach teenagers about alcohol abuse because there lies a fear that your child might reject any advice and rebel with alcohol anyway, but with patience and understanding, parents can get through to their child. Below are a few suggestions on how to begin the dialogue about alcohol with your teenager.
1. Talk About How To Build Healthy Self-Esteem.
Whether your child is a boy or a girl, they’re still going to battle self-esteem issues throughout puberty. Before discussing alcohol, it’s important to understand your teenager’s psyche and what their concerns are. How they view their body image, various types of relationships and personal standing in the world plays a part in why they might turn to alcohol whether it’s to fit in with their peers or self-medicate to cope with problems.
You need to teach healthy ways to build their self-esteem so that they rely on themselves and not on others’ approval. Encourage reaching out to you when they are going through rough patches with friends or school. Remind them that while the world may seem intimidating during high school years, they can still be strong and independent by pursuing good values and a career path, not by drinking underage. In this stage of their lives, teenagers must learn to love themselves so that they can continue to flourish and grow their talents, individualities, and minds.
2. Advise Your Child On How To Deal With Peer Pressure.
Despite what many after-school specials might dictate, sometimes “just say no” is not enough to deal with peer pressure and your teenager might cave into their friends’ pushes. It is important that parents have honest dialogues about what their teenagers can face when going to parties, hanging out with the wrong crowd, or cornered by strangers. Preparing teenagers on how to stand up for themselves or how to politely and casually reject alcohol offers will help them make the right decisions instead of buckling under pressure.
Get to know their friends.
Understanding the people your child is associating with will help you understand what kind issues they might face or who will be a good ally to them. Ask your child to bring friends over so you can get to know their characters. Appearances may not be what they seem, so it is better to understand the relationships your teenager has with others in order to understand if they are building a healthy circle of friends around them.
3. Ask About Your Teenager’s View On Alcohol.
Once you establish an understanding of the problems your teenager is facing and who their friends are, now you can approach alcohol from their perspective. Note that this should not be regarded as an opportunity to interrogate your child, but instead a chance to give your teenager a sense of respect and attention. Ask about their views on alcohol and underage drinking. Open a discussion about alcohol that can revolve around their personal experiences. Ask about why they think teenagers drink and if they agree or disagree with those reasons. In order to guide your teenager in the right direction, you must first understand what they think.
Control your emotions and listen.
It’s important that you remain calm and avoid punishment when asking about your teenager’s opinions on alcohol and potential experiences with it. You may not like what you hear. They might mention being peer pressured or friends with bad habits or voice the desire to experiment, which can make you feel frustrated or scared. Yelling or scolding your teenager when they begin to open up to you about these issues might deter them away and discourage them from mentioning future issues. Instead of rushing to negative reactions, be patient and understanding of what your child is dealing with and try to encourage healthier mindsets, relationships, and activities. This is also a good opportunity to talk about your experiences.
4. Talk Openly About Your Family History And/Or Experiences.
The world is scary and full of harsh realities and severe consequences, so it is understandable why parents would want to shield their children from the dark truths of the society we live in. Sadly, your children can’t stay children forever. With teenagers, parents need to respect that they are becoming more aware of the world as each day goes by. Be honest about experiences you have gone through with alcohol that could pertain to what they are experiencing in their own lives at the moment. This is also the time to mention your family history if alcoholism or substance abuse is a hereditary problem they should be aware of. Teenagers are more receptive to the consequences of alcohol if there are living examples in their family of abuse. Discussing your experiences with your teenager will also remind them that they are not alone, that you can relate to their issues and possibly provide answers. Building a relationship with your teenager should promote that they can look to you for guidance. There is no reason for them to fight the darkness alone.
5. Establish Trust And Support.
Your teenager might not be initially receptive to having an open and honest discussion about alcohol and their experiences/opinions at first because they might fear getting punished for “saying the wrong thing” or admitting to underage drinking. You need to establish trust with them. This is not about controlling your child’s life, but keeping them safe and prepared to make sound decisions. Facing peer pressure and finding themselves in bad situations remains a possibility no matter how much you educate your child on the negative consequences of alcohol, but that doesn’t mean they should be scared of you.
Fatal car accidents due to underage drinking are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. Many of these accidents could be avoided if teenagers weren’t afraid to reach out to their parents for rescue. Teenagers make mistakes, but your child should know that they can look to you for support when they truly need it. It is better to have your teenager safe in the backseat of your car about to be grounded for a month than it is to have them suffer a fatal car crash or fall victim to a stranger’s misdeeds while under the influence. Note that this does not translate into “going easy” on your teenager if they drink, but to ensure their safety so that they don’t make bad decisions with permanent consequences.
6. Encourage Healthy Activities And Family Structure.
One of the main reasons teenagers drink is boredom. Encourage your child to participate in supervised, after-school and/or weekend activities that can enjoy between their studies. Taking part in team activities will help them build healthy relationships with their teammates and classmates while also honing fine skills. Giving your teenager healthy alternatives to alcohol by showing them various challenging and fun activities will lead them away from alcohol. Encouraging exercise, the arts, music, sports, and volunteer work with non-profit organizations can give them an opportunity to be a part of a community and find healthy role models.
Maintaining family structure is also important in keeping a teenager’s mental state in good measure. Teenagers who follow some sense of structure within their families—even for as something as small as eating together for dinner every day—provide stability in teenagers’ lives because it is an understood support circle they are a part of. When you show your child that their family will always be there for them, they will take notice and keep to it that the family structure stays intact.
7. Keep Talking About It.
You don’t need to sit your child down and have “The Talk” all at once. In fact, that method might be overwhelming for your teenager and scare them into not reciprocating to your advice. It’s better to approach your teenager in natural, open conversations throughout their adolescence. If they want to be called young adults, then this is the time to begin treating them as so. Find opportunities in daily activities with them to teach them about alcohol, self-esteem, peer pressure, and good values. Each conversation will plant another seed in your teenager’s mind.
Think of the first conversation you have with your teenager about alcohol as the first of many. Cover the basics first—their personal issues, experiences, and opinions—and any family history they should know about it, and expand on these topics with each conversation thereafter. Throughout their lives, their perspectives may change, so it is always good to keep tabs on how your teenager is growing as a young adult. You might even find that by building such an honest relationship with your child will encourage them to go to you first about every issue in their lives for loving support and guidance—and at the end of the day, that is truly what every parent wants to give their child.
If you are concerned about your teenager potentially having an alcohol abuse problem, Recovery Hub has available resources to help you. For more information about recovery or to discuss the available treatment options, call Recovery Hub at 1-888-220-4325. Our specialists and intake team are always available to those in need. At Recovery Hub, we are personally invested in each and every patient. It’s our goal to help you or your loved one begin the healing journey and achieve lasting sobriety.