Talking it through

Did you know?
Children watch and learn from their parents' drinking habits

Talking about alcohol

Alcohol is sometimes a hard thing to talk about with your children. However hard it is though, talking about alcohol is an important part of parenting.

It's best to start talking about alcohol with your kids well before you think they might start drinking - and that might be when they're as young as 10.

Here are some tips for keeping the conversation on track. Before you approach your child, make sure that all responsible adults in the family are on the same page about adolescent alcohol use, ground rules and consequences.

Tips for talking

  • Pick your moment. Launching into a serious conversation when you're short of time, or when either you or your child are upset or tired isn't likely to end well. You might also think about raising the subject if you notice a story about alcohol consumption in the media.
  • Tell your children what you know about the short term and long term harm that alcohol can cause.
  • Be honest about your own drinking, and your feelings about alcohol and teenagers.
  • Admit what you do and don't know.
  • Ask your child whether they talk about alcohol with their friends.
  • If you've agreed with your child that they won't drink alcohol, let them know you want to talk to them again if they change their mind.
  • Let your child know that you're pleased that they will talk to you about this.
  • Talk about alternative ways to relax and have fun.

Tips for listening

  • Stay calm, wherever the conversation goes. Avoid being critical, emotional or judgemental.
  • Ask what they already know about alcohol - and if they seem misinformed, carefully correct their understanding. (You might find the information in the Young people and drinking and What's the harm? sections of this site useful).
  • Be prepared to hear things you may not agree with, or which may worry you.
  • Make sure that your child feels that they can express an opinion too - encourage them to tell you about their attitudes to alcohol.
  • Remember that your child isn't likely to tell you about their own experience of alcohol, or their observations of friends or peers drinking, if they feel that they will be punished for it or told to 'unfriend' people who drink.
  • Remember that risk-taking behaviour is part and parcel of adolescence - as is curiosity about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Your role is to ensure that your child has access to all the information and skills they need to make good decisions. As their independence increases, your control of what they do falls away, so they need the right information and skills to act and make choices without your guidance.
  • If you need it, ask for some time to gather your thoughts and come back together soon.
  • See what they need from you. If they want help, try problem solving with them. If they're asking for an opinion, tell them how you see the situation rather than telling your child what to do.