Your Child and Alcohol

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on April 18, 2014

At some point, most likely well before he turns 21, your child will have to make a choice about whether to drink alcohol. Your role as a parent is to prepare him. But first, prepare yourself by learning the facts.

Don’t Assume Your Child Won’t Try Alcohol

  • 10% of eighth graders say they drank alcohol in the past month.
  • 39% of high school seniors say they drank alcohol in the past month.

Young drinkers are more likely do risky things. When kids age 12 to 20 drink, they often binge (having five or more drinks in a row.) The earlier a young person starts, the more they tend to binge drink. That raises the chances they’ll hurt themselves or others.

Binge drinking can also slow down the development of the part of the brain that controls judgment. Normally, it keeps forming until we’re about 25 years old. That’s why teens so often act on impulse.

Can You Teach Your Child to Drink Responsibly?

If you’re right there with your child to supervise, it will be OK, right?

Not really. It may seem like a good idea, but research strongly indicates the longer you keep your kid from drinking, the better.

There’s no evidence to show letting your underage child drink alcohol at home leads to responsible drinking. And indulging at an earlier age raises risks of alcohol problems, like alcoholism. Kids who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to have addiction problems as an adult than those who wait until they’re 21.

Talk to Your Kids About Alcohol

Building a trusting relationship is key to teaching kids about responsible drinking. That helps them refuse alcohol, gain confidence, resist peer pressure, and know your expectations.

  • Show your child she can talk to you about anything. She’ll listen. It may not always seem so, but parents have a lot of influence on kids’ behavior.
  • Get involved in your child’s life. Know his friends and his whereabouts. Spend time with him daily.
  • If you drink, model healthy behavior. Don’t say you need to after a bad day. Don’t do it excessively, and never drink and drive.
  • Show your child other ways to relax, like exercise or music.
  • Use natural opportunities to start conversations, like when a beer commercial comes on or when someone at a restaurant drinks.
  • Be clear that underage drinking is not OK. Getting that message from their parents is the main reason kids say no to it.
  • Have your child practice saying “no” through role-playing, brainstorming, or just chatting.
  • Give information fitting your child’s maturity. Talk about alcohol dangers. Use short, simple comments and repeat them.
  • Give an older kid more specifics about alcohol’s effects and how it impacts your decision-making.
  • Talk about peer pressure. Help her recognize that good friends don’t push you to drink.

When to Start Talking

This may come as a shock, but the average age a child first tries alcohol is 11. Many kids are curious sooner. Some experts say you should start talking to them about it as early as age 9.

“It’s never too early to talk about it,” says Caitlin Abar, PhD, a SUNY Brockport psychologist who studies parenting influences on teen drinking.

Talk to him about it again before he heads off to college. These messages stick and can help keep him safe.

Keep on the Right Side of the Law

Depending on what state you live in, letting your kid drink at home may get you in legal trouble.

In all U.S. states, the minimum drinking age is 21, and it’s illegal to give alcohol to minors.

Thirty-one states have exceptions if the child’s parents are providing the alcohol.

In some states, hosting teen parties that have alcohol is a crime, leading to jail or fines. You also risk being sued for injuries or damages.

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