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Worried that your teen might drink? Talk to him or her.
Talk to teens about alcohol use
By Colleen Gengler, University of Minnesota Extension
April 4, 2007
Parents of teens typically worry if their adolescent is experimenting with alcohol--and with good cause. Recent studies show that approximately 75 percent of high school students have tried alcohol. More than 25 percent are binge drinkers.
It is vital that parents talk with their teen about not using alcohol. Telling teens "you'd better not drink" or "just say no" isn't helpful or effective. Instead, parents need to have open and honest conversations about alcohol use. Consider these tips for communicating with your teen:
- Be a good listener. If you are in the habit of listening carefully and respectfully without jumping to conclusions, you are more likely to have a good relationship with your teen. That relationship will make it easier to talk about difficult topics such as the consequences of alcohol use.
- State your views. Take a firm position on no underage drinking.
- Be supportive in helping your teen live by his or her views. Tell them it is OK to say, "No, I'd rather not drink."
Teen attitudes toward alcohol are influenced by what their parents do. Parents need to behave in a manner consistent with family rules. Parents might say to teens, "Once you are 21, it is OK to have a drink with friends," or "It's not OK to drink to solve problems."
Parents often dread the question asked by many teens, "Did you drink when you were my age?" It is best to give an honest response. If you did drink, you needn't go into detail, but you can tell about negative consequences and what you learned from those. Teens will respect honesty and see you as someone who took responsibility for a mistake.
Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, teens do get in trouble with alcohol. Some of the signs of teen drinking include: changes in friends, appearance and mood; a difference in eating or sleeping habits; a sudden decline in grades; increased time alone; secretiveness and avoidance of family; and frequent disagreements with family members.
If parents observe these signs or have reason to believe their teen is using other drugs, they may need to ask for outside help through a mental health agency or the school. One tool is a drug testing kit. Parents can consult with a counselor or school nurse about the appropriateness of using a drug testing kit.
For more resources on communicating with your teen about these and many other issues, visit Extension's parenting education Web site.
Colleen Gengler is a family relations educator with the University of Minnesota Extension.