Talking to your teen about underage drinking is a challenging — but crucial — conversation. It can be difficult to have an open two-way conversation without making your teen feel like he or she is being lectured (and tuning you out).
Getting the tone of the conversation right is important, as is the timing. Chances are, your teen is being exposed to alcohol at a younger age than you’d think, so having this conversation early is key.
If your teen is starting to take driving lessons or is already a licensed driver, this conversation becomes even more vital to his or her safety. Alcohol-impaired driving is accountable for around one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
Read on for our best tips to help you have an honest conversation with your teen about the consequences of drinking alcohol and operating a vehicle.
WHEN TO TALK TO YOUR TEEN
There isn’t a right time to talk to your teen. The conversation could happen in the car, at home one evening — whenever you feel an opportunity. However, there is a wrong time. Bringing up alcohol when your teen is distracted, tired or upset isn’t a good idea.
And while you may have one main conversation with your teen, you’ll have more of an impact on if you have multiple conversations about the subject.
If it feels awkward to bring alcohol up out of the blue, you can find a way to lead into the conversation. Perhaps a celebrity has recently been charged with drunk driving, or even a family member or friend. Ask what your teen thinks about the issue and then — listen.
The most important thing you can do when talking to your teen about any difficult subject is to listen as much as you talk. If you do all the talking, your teen will feel like he or she is being lectured. Let your teen share opinions, listen to stories about friends without judgment and make sure he or she feels heard.
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
You can’t expect your teen to be honest with you if you aren’t being honest. If you drank as a teenager, answer their questions truthfully. If you are asked questions that are too personal, you can say so. But don’t dodge questions or lie — your son or daughter will know (after all, teens know everything!).
If you’re comfortable sharing stories, it can help your son or daughter understand why you may regret your decision to drink as a teen and show that there are real consequences to people’s actions.
Your teen may tell you about past or present drinking behavior that upsets you. Remember, getting angry will shut down the conversation. Remain calm and let them know that you appreciate them being honest with you. You can then talk about why the choices were dangerous and risky.
PEER PRESSURE AND MYTHS
We’d all like to think our teen is too smart to give into peer pressure — but most of us did as kids. It’s hard to be the only one not fitting in, especially at a party with the “cool kids”. But teens can’t simply be told that they don’t have to give in to peer pressure. They need help developing strategies to stand up for themselves.
For example, if a teen is being pressured to drink at party, he or she can say the following things to get friends to back off:
- “I’m not going to drink, I’m driving.”
- “I already have a headache, I don’t want to make it worse.”
- “I have a big meet in a few days, I want to perform at my best.”
- “I have to get up really early tomorrow, so I probably won’t stay long.”
- “I’m okay for now, thanks though.”
It’s important to teach teens that they’ll likely have to say no more than once. Make sure they understand their true friends would never pressure them into doing something that they don’t want to do, or that makes them uncomfortable.
There are also myths surrounding drinking, and as the parent, it’s your responsibility to ensure your teen knows the truth. Some of these myths include:
- Alcohol doesn’t always make you feel happy. It acts as a depressant, so while it may make some people feel more social, it can make other people feel very sad or angry.
- You can’t “sober up” by drinking coffee or taking a cold shower.
- If you’ve had a few drinks and you think a friend seriously needs medical attention, you cannot go to jail for calling them an ambulance. You must always get help from an adult or seek medical attention if somebody is dangerously drunk.
- Drinking and driving is drinking and driving — the law does not care if you’ve had one drink or five.
- It doesn’t matter whether you drink beer, wine or liquor — you’ll still get drunk and are still likely to get a hangover.
LET THEM KNOW THE RISKS
Sure, two drinks at a friend’s house on a Friday night may seem innocent enough. But what if a neighbor files a noise complaint and the police come? Make sure your teen knows the consequences:
- Being cited for possession of an alcohol beverage, whether it has been consumed or not (yes, this can even happen on private property).
- Minors may face a hefty fine, possible jail time or both for being charged with purchasing, possessing, selling or consuming alcohol underage.
- Expulsion from school or restriction from participating in extra-curricular activities if caught drinking (even on private property).
Getting charged with any type of alcohol-related offense will make it difficult for a teen to keep or get a part-time job and can severely impact their ability to get into first-choice colleges. As an aside, even a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana can disqualify a teen from seeking some forms of education assistance.
And while it may be hard to get teens to understand the deep implications of non-legal consequences, they are just as important. Teens who drink are at higher risk for:
- Sexual activity: especially unwanted sexual advances and impaired decision making when it comes to sexual partners. Teens who drink are also far more likely to have unprotected sex.
- Alcohol-related death: accidents related to alcohol are a leading cause of death in teenagers.
- Academic struggles: teens who drink often see their grades suffer and have behavioral problems in school.
- Violence and crime: teens who drink are more likely to be violent and are more likely to be a victim of a violent crime like rape or assault.
DRINKING AND DRIVING
Teenage drinking and driving has serious consequences. Teen drivers are responsible for almost 20% of all fatal alcohol-related crashes. Some states have a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21, while some states have a .02% limit.
Regardless of your state’s specific laws, your teen should know that he or she absolutely can’t drive after consuming any amount of alcohol. Establish expectations and make sure the consequences are fully explained.
Let your teen know that if he or she has been drinking and needs a ride, you will be less upset if you get a call than you than if your teen gets home in a riskier way. Establish strict rules — you are a parent, not a friend, in these situations.
STEALEY LAW & MEDIATION | WV PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER
To help ensure your teen’s safety, download our free “What to Do After an Auto Accident Checklist”. Getting in an accident is scary, especially as a teen driver. This free resource lists out the steps any person should take after an accident to protect legal rights and personal safety. We understand that this subject matter is difficult and can cause stress and uneasiness when broached with a teen. But we have seen far too many examples of teens who have been injured or worse in car wrecks as a result of drinking and driving.
We hope this has provided you with some useful tips and information.