Once a child reaches the teenage years, it can be challenging for any parent, to say the least. An otherwise good kid may be tempted to start experimenting with drinking and other illegal activities. But there are some things that parents can do to keep their teen on the right track. Here is how to communicate with your teen about teen drinking:
- Talk about it. A lot. It is important for parents to communicate with their children about everything--including drinking. If you never talk to your child about drinking, he may think that it's no big deal to you. But it is a big deal. Besides the fact that it is illegal for a person under the age of 21 to consume alcohol, teenagers don't have the maturity level to gauge how much alcohol their bodies can handle--or to realize the consequences of consuming too much. Have an open conversation with your teen on the subject and ask your child if drinking has been an issue with his circle of friends. While it may be impossible to keep your kids from their friends that do drink, you can express your feelings about it.
- State your rules clearly. You don't want to sound like a tyrant, but you must make your rules known--and in no uncertain terms. If your child has already experimented with drinking, it's important to tell her that it is unacceptable for a teenager to drink. You must also talk to your child about the dangers of drinking and driving. As we all know, teenagers think they are invincible. You may have to set a punishment, like grounding or taking away the teen's driving privileges for a set period of time, if she breaks the rules. Yes, your child may resent you and yes, there may be arguments between the two of you. But teen drinking should really be a non-negotiable issue.
- Educate your teen. Many drivers' education programs offer classes on drinking and driving--it's a good idea to have your teen sit through an educational program to learn about the dangers of drinking. There are also many books on the subject that you can share with your teen. Some good choices include:
The Big Deal About Alcohol: What Teens Need to Know About Drinking by Marilyn McClellan
Teens and Alcohol by James D. Torr
Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas
- Spell out the consequences. Teenagers don't always think about the consequences of their actions, so spell it out for them. Let your child know that if he is at party where underage drinking is taking place, he could be arrested if the police are called. Also, even if no driving is involved, in some states a teen can get points against their driver's license if they are caught drinking. Besides legal consequences, there can be health consequences and academic consequences--teenage drinkers will often see a drop in their grades if they spend their free time partying.
- Know your child's friends--and their parents. Besides keeping the lines of communication open with your teen, make sure that you know who all of their friends are. You should also get to know their friend's parents, especially if overnight sleepovers occur. Even if you have talked to your teen about drinking, you don't know what goes on in their friend's households so make sure that you and their friend's parents are on the same page. If another parent seems too permissive, then don't let your teen go over to their house.
- Don't condone drinking, but have a plan in case it happens. If you teen doesn't listen to you and does drink, make sure that he or she knows that it is okay to call you if they need to be picked up. In fact, insist on it. The last thing you want is for your teen to be so afraid of getting in trouble with you that they drive or get into a car with someone who has been drinking. Have an open door policy, where your child can call you for a ride if they need to with no questions asked--that night. You will have the next morning to talk about what happened in detail.
- Step in if you need to. If you think your child has an alcohol problem, you must step in right away. Sometimes excessive teen drinking is a cry for help. It is your job to help protect your child, so get your teen into counseling or a rehabilitation program if drinking has already become a serious issue.
- Practice what you preach. If you expect your child to respect what you say about drinking, then you need to be responsible when it comes to drinking as well. Don't let your teen see you drinking excessively and never get behind the wheel when you have been drinking.
Most teens are good kids and will respect what their parents have to say--it's your job as a parent to keep the lines of communication open.