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How to talk with your child about alcohol (for all ages)

Underage drinking is a tough and important topic.

We are part of one big community in Wyoming. We are always learning and getting better at talking about difficult things, like how alcohol affects our families - and the risks it poses to our youth.

Here are some general tips followed by age-specific guidelines from the experts (information sources listed below):

  • While it helps to start talking when kids are very young, it is never too late to start talking about alcohol with your kids!

  • Lots of little talks are more effective than one “big talk”. Having small talks often, while driving in the car, doing dishes, fishing, lake days, doing chores, helps normalize the conversation and builds trust.

  • Keep the conversation focused on health and safety. “I’m your Dad/Mom/Grandma/Grandpa and it’s my job to keep you safe and healthy.”

  • Accept that it might feel awkward sometimes. It is Ok to say: “Time out: I didn’t say that the way I wanted. I’m going to try again.” Be yourself! Choose words that feel natural to you.

  • Keep it age appropriate (tips below!)

  • Know that they might roll their eyes, but they are listening

  • Be a positive role model! Children are always watching us. They are very good at letting us know when our words don’t match our actions.

Talking with children under 10

At this age, parents are like superheroes to their children. Parents have the most influence at this age. When talking with this age group,, experts recommend:

• Deliver messages for young kids in terms of health and safety: “We don’t want to put things in our body that could be unhealthy for us.” Or: “Your brain and body are very busy growing! Alcohol is dangerous to your body and brain while you are growing.”

• When your child asks about alcohol the best response is direct and straightforward: “Alcohol is a drink that people use to change how they feel.” “It can make people feel kind of fuzzy.” “While a little bit is ok for adults who choose to drink, too much alcohol can make a person sick or do embarrassing things.”

• This is a great time to introduce refusal skills: “It’s okay to say no if someone asks you to do something that is bad for your health. Say no and tell an adult you trust.”

Talking to tweens (10 - 12)

This is a really powerful age to have life skills conversations. Tweens are less likely than teenagers to have formed opinions. There is more of an opportunity for parents to give facts and influence their child. Experts recommend:

• Continue to focus the conversation on health and safety.

• Keep it 2 sided, not a lecture! You might begin by finding out where your child gets their information about alcohol and drinking. Other questions to keep the conversation going:

  • “Do you have friends or know kids that drink?”

  • “How does drinking affect them at school or in their life?”

  • “What questions do you have for me about alcohol?”

Give them good reasons to refuse alcohol.

  • Drinking can be dangerous, both socially and physically.

  • “I want you to be healthy and safe.”

  • We know a lot more now about how alcohol affects kids' brains. We know that when kids start drinking early, they are more likely to become addicted to substances like alcohol.”

  • Underage drinking is illegal because of health and safety concerns. Consequences include things like losing your driver’s license for a period of time.

Practice ways to say no:

  • The best: “No thanks!”.

  • When they need you to support them, they need an “out” ie: “My mom just called. Sorry ... I gotta go." or "Something’s going on at home.”

  • “My parents would ground me for life!”

  • “I forgot that I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon.”

  • “I already lost my phone privileges. If they find me doing this stuff I won’t be able to go anywhere for a month!”

Talking so that teens will listen (ages 13 - 19)

Teens are able to use logic. Teens are forming ideas about alcohol use. Know that even if they roll their eyes or give you the “mommmmmmmmm…” they are listening. When talking with your teen, try listening without interrupting. Approach the conversation with curiosity; “I’m curious what you think about this…” Communicate directly, keeping it short and light!

Tips from the experts:

  • Let them know that it’s not about morality. Let them know it’s about their safety and well-being.

  • Learn about how alcohol and other substances affect developing brains.

    • Let them know if alcoholism runs in the family.

    • Create a safety plan with your teen for when they are in a situation where alcohol is being consumed or they don’t feel safe.

    • Lean into the law: Drinking is illegal, with life altering results.

  • Give them tools to say “no” to peer pressure:

  • “No matter what the time or situation is, you can call me and I’ll pick you up.

    • Say: “My dad says I can’t!”

    • You can text or call me with a secret phrase … Daughter says: “Mom, I left my curling iron on.Mom: “I’m coming to get you now so you can take care of it.”

If your kids are caught drinking:

  • Let them know that you love them no matter what.

  • Ask them questions like “What happened?” “What happened that led up to this choice?” (put the imaginary duct tape on your mouth and listen)

  • Allow them to experience the consequences of their choices.

  • Try to determine if there is a deeper problem.

Ways to determine if If there is a deeper problem, and local resources:

  • Assess: Have relationships with others changed? Has conflict increased? Have grades or interest in sports changed?

  • If you believe your child may have a serious problem with alcohol, talk to your doctor or medical provider. Other local resources include:

    • High Country Behavioral Health – 307-367-2111

    • Curran-Seeley Foundation – 307-733-3908

Suggestions from child psychologists for how to answer the dreaded question “Did you drink as a teen?”

  • You can admit that you did and discuss what happened for you or other teens you knew. This approach may help your teen to better understand a) why you are concerned, and b) that teen alcohol use can have negative consequences.

    • “I drank alcohol because some of my friends did, and I thought I needed to do the same to fit in. In those days people didn’t know as much as they do now about all the bad things that can happen when you drink.”

    • “We know a lot more now about how alcohol affects kids' brains. We know that when kids start drinking early, they are more likely to become addicted to substances like alcohol.”

    • “Everyone makes mistakes and trying alcohol/drugs was one of my biggest mistakes ever. I’ll do anything to help you avoid making the same stupid decision that I made when I was your age.”

    • “I started drinking when I was young and, as you can see, it’s been a battle ever since. Because of my drinking, I missed a big part of growing up and every day I have to fight with myself so it doesn’t make me miss out on even more – my job, my relations, and most importantly, my time with you. I love you too much to watch you make the same mistakes I made.”


Updates made to this article 2/22/23


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

WY WE TALK — WY WE TALK is the prevention organization of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police (WASCOP)

Children’s Hospital of Colorado Psychology Department:

Resources on refusal skills, how to say “no”, from the University of Minnesota:

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