It shouldn't come as a surprise that your teenager will be or is curious about alcohol. Whether or not you allow or permit them to do so is very much a family decision...but here are some tips for having the inevitable conversation.

Here are some tips for talking to your teenager about substances.


★    Use information as power: The approach many parents attempt is a no-excuses, no-discussion, no-means-no, because-I-said-so approach. This works well with some kids, and for others, it’s not enough. Teenagers like to feel validated; they are school-going sponges who are expected to do things like provide supporting details and facts to prove their claims in essays and biology labs. That said, it’s important to provide them with relevant information as to why they would be better off sipping on a coke and not beer. I don’t suggest full-force fear mongering with random facts from the Internet. But smaller, more intimate, relevant pieces of information can go a long way in your cause. Personal anecdotes about your own mistakes are effective. Not five miles in the snow both ways vibes, but honest, vulnerable and formative experiences. Your mistakes. Your lessons. Passed on. Family members’ experiences with addiction or mistakes involving substances are also valuable tools. Basically, it’s key to wrap the rules in stories that make the rules understandable; they won’t like the rules, but if they have more ground from which to understand them, you’re better off than before. 


★    Pick your examples carefully: When I was about twelve-years-old my dad took my older brother and me on an unannounced ride one morning. He said little and answered no questions about our journey as we made our way to a stretch of road with a silver pickup truck pulled off to the side. As we approached, he slowed to a crawl and signaled us to look out the window. Dents and body damage soon led our eyes to broken windows, smeared with blood, and hair affixed to the cracks of class. “Sean,” he said, “was drinking and driving.” Sean was a family friend, older, cool as could be, who he knew we looked up to. Sean was a relevant example, and one that I can say with certainty quelled any desire I ever had to drive buzzed. Whereas one parent might list off the penal code or fines that accompany a DUI, my dad had an example that said much more, while saying almost nothing at all. 


★    Get off the hamster wheel: Not confuse you, I know only two bullets earlier I said that a hardline no means no approach might not work, but it’s still a good option for many parents. No is a complete sentence. Once you have laid the ground rule around why your rules exist, with the stories, facts, moral attachments that you have outlined over time, there is really no reason to keep going around and around about your rules. Teenagers love to renegotiate the deal. And you let them into that process by opening the conversation (debate, really) about the rules. To be succinct, if every Saturday rolls around and inevitably your teen is looking for wiggle room to get boozy or whatever, a short, firm, friendly “no” is all you need. Of course, it’s always fun to add just one new factoid or anecdote to the preface of that response to keep your rationale fluid and up-to-date. Son: “Dad can I go out with the boys for a few beers?” Dad: “You know your cousin Justin just got kicked out of college for too many alcohol-related infractions…oh, and, no.”