Parent involvement does make a difference in teen drinking behavior

by Gary Gilles

adolescent drinkingI was talking recently with the father of a 17-year-old who told me that he’s nearly given up trying to persuade his son to not drink. “All we do is argue about it and it’s ruining what little relationship we have left,” said the dad. So, he told me he’s changed his tactic and now promotes “responsible drinking,” which translates into not drinking and driving. As I listened to this battle-weary parent, I told him his suggestion sounded more like a public service announcement than parental guidance. I responded with, “So, you’re telling your underage son it’s okay to drink as long as he doesn’t get behind the wheel of a car? Are you sure that’s the message you want to send?” He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “What else can I do?” This parent, like many today, are not only tired of the battle against alcohol use in their teens but at a loss of what to do.

The good news is that there is a lot you can do as a parent to help your teen make responsible decisions about alcohol use. A recent study supports this idea. Researchers from the University of Buffalo found that talking to your teen on a consistent basis about alcohol use can significantly reduce the potential for misuse. But, the study showed an increase in alcohol use among teens whose parents didn’t continue talking about alcohol use on a regular basis or set expectations for their teen’s behavior with alcohol. It seems that parental attitudes about alcohol influence teen attitudes. When parents don’t bring it up, teens interpret this silence as parental tolerance for their use of alcohol.

Knowing how to talk to your teen

Now, the real challenge comes in knowing how to have these conversations with your teen in a way that encourages real dialogue and sends the message that you really do care. Here are some sound principles you can use to start and keep the conversation going for the long-term.

Make it easy for your child to talk to you

Encourage conversation by showing interest in what your adolescent knows about alcohol and what he or she thinks about teen drinking. Ask open-ended questions, such as “How important is alcohol use in order to be accepted by your peers?” Listen carefully without interrupting. If you show genuine interest without judgment, your teen will feel heard and respected and this opens the door for future conversations.

Maintain control over your emotion 

It’s easy to overreact to something your teen says that you disagree with or don’t like. Take a deep breath and instead of correcting them ask them to elaborate on their viewpoint. If you can regulate your own reactions and keep the conversation focused, you are likely to help regulate your teen’s emotional reactions to any differences there might be between you.

Model the behavior you want your teen to practice

If you drink, do so in moderation and don’t use alcohol as a way to “unwind” from a tough day. Let your child see that you use healthier ways to cope with stress besides alcohol, such as exercise, good conversation, listening to music or other forms of recreation.

Build a strong relationship with your teen

When children have a strong bond with a parent they are much more likely to feel good about themselves and be less likely to give into peer pressure to use alcohol. Remember, the goal of these conversations is not to set them straight, but to engage in meaningful dialogue. And meaningful dialogue builds trust and a closer parent-child relationship.

Use natural opportunities to keep talking

Periodically visit the issue of alcohol use when your teen is going to a party or dance. Ask your son or daughter how they will respond if alcohol is offered to them. Or, if one of their classmates gets a DUI or is found to have alcohol at school, ask their thoughts about how the situations were handled by those involved.

Set clear, realistic expectations for your teen’s behavior

After all the talking, it’s still important to establish clear but realistic expectations for substance use behavior. You also need to clearly state and enforce the appropriate consequences for breaking the rules. Your teen needs these parameters to help them make good decisions. But, enforce them with respect, dialogue and empathy for the struggles and pressures your teen faces. This approach will strengthen your relationship, even amid conflict, far more than a heavy-handed approach.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: