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Helping Our Teens “Pass” on Underage Drinking

Hello, PATH Parents!

A big part of our job as parents is to set our teen’s understanding about topics that could be life-changing for them should they not grasp or respect the dynamics involved. Alcohol use is one of those life-altering topics and therefore needs to be prioritized as we intentionally mentor our kids during their teenage years, equipping them to “pass” on underage drinking.

As with anything, it is best to educate and strengthen understanding BEFORE exposure to a compromising situation, but no matter what your teen’s exposure or experience with alcohol, start your conversations now. They can be a game changer both before and during life experience.

In the article, Teen Alcohol Abuse & Treatment Guide, provides an excellent, under-two-minutes video which succinctly explains why teenage drinking is not the best choice. This video could be an easy introduction to a conversation with your teen about why you are encouraging and expecting him or her to skip alcohol during this stage of life.

The article explains the negatives introduced by underage drinking, including damage to developing brain nerve cells, which in turn causes problems for teens with forming new and lasting memories, recalling information, making quality decisions, exercising proper judgment, and maintaining needed impulse control. Waiting for adulthood to drink allows the brain to grow and mature fully, so that alcohol can potentially be added into adult life in a healthy way.

Below are 4 strategies for communicating with our teens about alcohol use:

  1. Be real about dynamics–ALL of them. Be honest about the risks and dangers of underage drinking, but also be honest about why so many teens DO get pulled into an underage drinking culture. For example, “Yes, drinking can be fun in the moment and even make teens feel accepted or grown up. It is very natural to want to fit in and join in, even experiment with something new. However, you have a good head on your shoulders and can see why making the right choices trumps being accepted in the moment. Most teens will like you just as much with a Coke in your hand. Those are the friends you want anyway…” When teens see that we acknowledge all the dynamics, they are more open to receiving our wisdom.

  2. Continually reinforce the why for waiting to drink (so they choose it for themselves). Again, as our teens become more independent and gain more freedom, we cannot be with them 24/7 in every situation. However, if they genuinely value the right things, if they have a secure identity and understand true dynamics at play, they will be more likely to make the healthy choice on their own, even in a tempting moment. 

  3. Restrict access to alcohol (a.k.a. unnecessary temptation). Many teens begin drinking via the alcohol available in their own homes when Mom and Dad aren’t looking. Since easy access can open unwanted doors, lock up any alcohol in the home and simply remove access. Also, make sure that the parties you allow in your home or that your teen attends are supervised by responsible adults who are on the same page as you.

  4. Provide healthy ways for your teens to reduce stress (and model those ways yourself as an adult). Stress reduction is cited as a big reason adolescents drink. So it is our responsibility as parents to provide our teens healthy ways to relieve stress, including a weekly schedule with margins for downtime and fun hobbies, regular exercise, and consistent sleep that refreshes and restores. Also, model healthy stress reduction yourself, doing the habits above instead of reaching for alcohol each night to reset your own calm.

Hopefully, these tips have given you some concrete ideas for supporting your teen through these critical years. If you realize that your teen has already developed unhealthy habits with alcohol, reach out to qualified professionals for support and guidance; you do not have to walk your teen through this journey alone.

You are so important in your teens’ lives, PATH Parents! Thank you for all you are investing in your young world changers!

In the parenting trenches with you,
Lisa Raftery