Parents often underestimate how early teen drinking starts, the amount of alcohol teens drink and the risks involved. But teen drinking isn’t inevitable. You can encourage your teen to avoid alcohol by talking to him or her about the risks of teen drinking and the importance of making good decisions.
Why teens drink
Teens are particularly vulnerable to alcohol use. The physical changes of puberty may make your teen feel self-conscious and more likely to take risks to fit in or please others — such as experiment with alcohol. Also, your teen may have trouble understanding that his or her actions have consequences.
Common risk factors for teen drinking include:
Transitions, such as the move from middle school to high school or getting a driver’s license
Increased stress at home or school
Family problems, such as conflict or parental alcohol abuse
A history of behavior problems
Consequences of teen drinking
Whatever causes a teen to drink, the consequences may be the same. For example, teen drinking can lead to:
Alcohol-related traffic accidents. Alcohol-related accidents are a leading cause of teen deaths. Teen drownings, suicides and murders also have been linked with alcohol use.
Sexual activity. Teens who drink tend to become sexually active earlier and have sex more often than do teens who don’t drink. Teens who drink are also more likely to have unprotected sex than are teens who don’t drink.
School problems. Teens who drink tend to have more academic and conduct problems than do teens who don’t drink. Also, drinking can lead to temporary or permanent suspension from sports and other extracurricular activities.
Alcohol dependence. People who begin drinking as young teens are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than are people who wait until they’re adults to drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Being a victim of violent crime. Alcohol-related crimes may include rape, assault and robbery.
Research also shows that teen drinking may harm brain development.
Teen drinking: Talking to your teen about alcohol
Talking about teen drinking
It can be tough to talk about teen drinking. You may be unsure of what to say, and your teen may try to dodge the conversation. To increase your odds of having a meaningful discussion, choose a time when you and your teen are relaxed. Don’t worry about covering everything at once. If you talk often, you may have a greater impact on your teen than if you have only a single discussion.
When you talk about teen drinking, you might:
Ask your teen’s views. Find out what your teen knows and thinks about alcohol.
Share facts. Explain that alcohol is a powerful drug that slows the body and mind, and that anyone can develop an alcohol problem — even a teen.
Debunk myths. Teens often think that drinking makes them popular or happy. Explain that alcohol is a depressant that also may cause sadness and anger.
Discuss reasons not to drink. Avoid scare tactics. Instead, explain the risks and appeal to your teen’s self respect.
Plan ways to handle peer pressure. Brainstorm with your teen about how to respond to offers of alcohol. It might be as simple as saying, “No thanks,” or “Do you have any soda?”
Be prepared to discuss your own drinking. Your teen may ask if you drank alcohol when you were a teen. If you chose not to drink, explain why. If you chose to drink, you might share an example of a negative consequence of your drinking.
The best way to encourage your teen to avoid drinking is to develop a strong relationship with him or her. Your support will help your teen build the self-esteem he or she needs to stand up to peer pressure — and be an incentive to live up to your expectations.
Other preventive strategies
In addition to talking to your teen, consider other strategies to prevent teen drinking:
Know your teen’s activities. Pay attention to your teen’s plans and whereabouts. Encourage participation in supervised after-school and weekend activities.
Establish rules and consequences. Rules might include no underage drinking, leaving parties where alcohol is served and not riding in a car with a driver who has been drinking. Agree on the consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time — and enforce them consistently.
Set an example. If you drink, do so in moderation and explain to your teen why it’s OK for adults to drink sometimes. Explain some of the rules you follow, such as not drinking and driving. Don’t serve alcohol to anyone who’s underage.
Encourage healthy friendships. If your teen’s friends drink, your teen is more likely to drink, too. Get to know your teen’s friends and their parents.
Seeking help for teen drinking
If you suspect that your teen has been drinking, talk to him or her. Enforce the consequences you’ve established so that your teen understands that using alcohol will always result in a loss of privileges. Accepting moderate use of alcohol may send the message that teen drinking isn’t dangerous. If you think your teen may have a drinking problem, consider contacting a health care professional who specializes in alcohol problems.
Remember, it’s never too soon to start talking to your teen about alcohol use. By broaching the topic, you’ll help give your teen the guidance and support necessary to make good choices.