You might remember peer pressure when you were a teen, which is why you want to be proactive in talking with your kid about drinking.

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Whether you caught your teen drinking or your child is just approaching an age when kids like to party, it’s natural to worry about underage drinking. Drinking is the drug of choice for teens today, and according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it’s a serious public health problem in the United States.

In 2019:

  • More than 24% of 14- to 15-year-olds said they had at least 1 drink.
  • 7 million people 12 to 20 years old say they drank more than “just a few sips” in the past month.
  • 4.2 million underage kids reported binge drinking — which put them at risk of injury, physical or sexual assault, and death.

If you’re a parent, you might be wondering what the best way is to keep your child safe.

Boundaries are helpful, so it’s OK to set clear rules and expectations for your child when it comes to drinking.

Opt for communicating consequences proactively

The key is to lay out these rules — and the consequences for breaking them — clearly when neither of you are angry. You’ll want to be consistent with your discipline, too. Studies have linked inconsistent discipline and hostility to underage drinking.

Once you’ve laid out your rules, you might want to follow up and keep an eye on your child.

Here are some helpful tips on monitoring your child without being overprotective.

Studies show that monitoring your kid and knowing what they’re doing and who they’re with decreases the chances that your teen will drink.

Appropriate punishment for teen drinking

If you catch your teen drinking, try not to lead with anger, shame, or a long lecture.

Instead, be calm, empathetic but firm while you enforce your prediscussed rules.

For example, if your child goes to a friend’s house and drinks, maybe you’ll tell them: You can’t go to your friend’s house until you prove (with actions, not words) you won’t repeat the behavior.

What’s more influential than punishing your older kid?

Establishing a loving, supportive relationship with your child is important, as is keeping the channels of communication open.

Research shows that teens who have a close, supportive relationship with their parents or guardians are more likely to delay drinking.

This is because they’ll be less susceptible to peer pressure due to higher self-esteem, and because they’ll feel like they can talk to you if they ever have questions about alcohol or drinking.

They’ll also be more likely to want to live up to your expectations, instead of defying them, because they have a close relationship with you.

Teens don’t do as we say, they do as we do

Remember too, that it’s important to lead by example. How you behave around alcohol will teach your child a lot more than any rules you lay out.

If you display healthy behaviors toward alcohol, they will, too. Research on early onset alcohol use shows that parents who drink or talk a lot about drinking have kids who are more likely to try alcohol earlier. Those who are warned about dangers are more likely to wait.

  • Try to remain calm, honest, and assertive when you talk to your teen about alcohol.
  • If you drink, acknowledge that, but also clearly lay out why it’s different for an adult and a teen to drink because of its effect on their growing brain.
  • Ask your teen questions and let them truly answer — even if their answer is hard to hear. For example, if you find alcohol in their room, you could ask them where the got it, why they have it, and why they’re interested in drinking.
  • Let your child know that they can come to you with any questions, concerns, or just to talk.
  • Practice active listening when you child talks.
  • Explain your household rules and why alcohol can be dangerous in adolescence. You could touch on legal implications of underage drinking, too.
  • Ask your teen open-ended questions about where they’re going, who they’re seeing, or who their friends are.
  • If someone in your family has challenges with addiction or drinking, be honest about that. Allow your teen to ask you any questions about this, too.

There are a few ways to talk about alcohol with your teen, both before it becomes a problem and after you’ve had a discipline issue. Here are some tips:

It’s natural to worry about your teen and alcohol. But parents who know what their teen is up to and are clear and consistent with their rules can lessen the chances that their teen will drink. If you have problems, though, it’s not only OK, it’s recommended to seek professional help.