“Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” There are few areas where the adage rings truer than with underage drinking. Here are the facts: underage drinking is illegal. Most parents don’t condone it. It’s unhealthy. The best tactic is to delay it as long as you can.
In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that parents should strive to keep their younger teenagers away from alcohol because it damages the developing teenage brain.
But here’s another fact: Many teens are drinking.
That’s why we thought it was time to offer some realistic advice on underage drinking. There’s no doubt that this conversation will look different in every family. And the discussion will depend on the age of your teen and your own individual values. But if your goal is safety, you must know what to do when you suspect that your teen may be exposed to underage drinking.
Teenage drinking: parenting advice:
You must open the lines of communication, and keep them open. “You might even say, ‘It’s illegal, and it’s unhealthy, but if you do drink, you have to be safe’”. While parents should stress that they’d prefer their teenagers not drink, a zero tolerance message does not help teens because they will be less likely to call for help when they are in trouble if all alcohol is taboo.
An important part of the conversation should be helping teens think through other options. You could casually saying, “Hey, I know parties with this group can get rowdy. What’s your plan if it gets out of control or the person you’re riding with ends up drinking?”. You also might want to give your teens tips on how to look like they’re drinking, if that makes them feel more comfortable.
You can also help them think through what to say if kids are pressuring them, such as, “My mom would kill me, and I can’t risk missing out on the next party.” Or, “The coach will bench me if I’m caught.”.
Even if you know underage drinking is going on, there are some situations that can’t be tolerated. Here are three to give your teen:
Don’t drink and drive
Being drinking is dangerous
You have to help a friend in trouble
Situations can get out of control very quickly, and teens need to know that if something is going badly, it is always in their best interest to call a parent
for help. You may have a conversation later (much later) about the poor judgment, but impress upon them that they shouldn’t hesitate to call for a ride or any other help.
There is a common attitude among party-hosting parents that it’s fine if they take the keys so no one will drink and drive. The theory is that they want teens to be safe and experiment at home.
Consider moderation and context. “If your kid is otherwise doing well in life — for example, their grades are good, they are participating in sports or clubs, and they have a social life — don’t panic because they are occasionally using alcohol.” However, if it’s being used on a daily basis or in the wrong situations, like before school or when alone, that can indicate an abusive pattern where you should seek help.