Tips on Talking with your Teens about Drinking

With prom and graduation season approaching, parents have been asking me what they can do or say to their teenagers to prevent them from underage drinking.  Well let me try to quench everyone’s thirst for help with this problem by providing a few sips, I mean tips.

First, you should begin talking to you child about the dangers of alcohol long before they reach adolescence so they understand more about the dangers of alcohol use before it is introduced to them by peers. 

And speaking of peers – know who your child’s friends are.  Better yet, get to know the parents of these friends so you can all work together to ensure that risk-taking behaviors like alcohol are not encouraged.

Help your child come up with good excuses for refusing alcohol such as “no thanks, I’m in training” or “my parents would ground me for life” that will prevent them from saying yes to peer pressure. 

In addition, remind them that when and if they do drink: they’ll most likely end up saying or doing embarrassing things; are more apt to get into fights; may end up throwing up (no one enjoys a hangover); and it may put teens at risk for unprotected sex; and increase the risk of injuring oneself when under the influence especially if driving is going to be involved.   Alcohol-related car crashes are the leading cause of death in teens and young adults between 15 and 24. 

Know where your child is going to be and when they’re coming home, and institute a curfew for evenings out.  Insist that your child never drive or ride with someone who has been drinking, and promise them a guilt-free, no-questions-asked ride home if they find themselves in a situation they would rather not be in with someone using alcohol. 

Parents need to set good examples as well.  Try not to drink alcohol in front of your children and teenagers. Never ask your children to bring in or prepare alcoholic beverages for adults.  If other adults are over, offer them non-alcoholic beverages if there are other children or teens in the house.

Finally, watch television or movies with your teens and in doing so point out the negative effects of this beverage, even if drinking alcohol is portrayed as humorous or desirable on the screen.  Also remember to point out the strengths in your child and reinforce their healthy behaviors with positive encouragement so they are less likely to turn to alcohol to escape from reality.

Hopefully tips like this will sober everyone up when it comes to recognizing the important role parents can play in helping to discourage their teens from underage drinking.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at