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Talking the Talk

Learn how to teach your child about alcohol prevention by what you say and do
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Middle school teens look to parents for guidance

Teens do look to parents for information and guidance about important issues like alcohol, even if it sometimes feels like they teens listen more to media or friends. (1)

Research Spotlight

Research shows that what parents think about alcohol plays a role in their kids' alcohol use decisions. (1-5) Eighty percent of middle school students thought their parents should have a say about whether they have alcohol. (6) One study found that if parents clearly stated their expectations about drinking, and didn’t involve children in adult alcohol use (not asking them to bring or pour drinks for them) their children were less likely to drink alcohol when they were in their mid teens. (7)

Six tips for talking about alcohol with your kids

Tip #1: Set clear expectations

Children need to know what parents expect of them, so be very specific. Say things like:

“Our family rule is that you don’t touch alcohol. This means that you shouldn’t even take small sips or tastes, even at home.”

Talking about Adult Alcohol Use with Your Child

Teachable Moments are unplanned opportunities for you to teach your child by taking advantage of a real-life experience that sparks your child’s curiosity. They can happen at any time or in any place. You can’t force teachable moments to happen, but you can be on the lookout for them. Watch these three videos scenarios of teachable moments:

All Videos
Video #1: You and your child notice someone visibly drunk

Video #1: You and your child notice someone visibly drunk

Play Video
Video #2: Watching a movie with your child where young people are drinking

Video #2: Watching a movie with your child where young people are drinking

Play Video
Video #3: Talking to your child before dropping them off at a friend's house

Video #3: Talking to your child before dropping them off at a friend's house

Play Video

Q. How can parents communicate about alcohol through their actions at home?

Children see and hear a lot of things at home that seem small to us, but can add up to have a big influence on the way they think about alcohol.


Here are seven ways you can teach your child about alcohol through your actions:

#1: Don't let your child taste alcohol.

Research shows that children who stay alcohol-free during childhood are less likely to drink alcohol as teenagers. That means no sips, no tastes, no watered down drinks, no tasting beer foam, no drizzling alcohol over ice cream or desserts, and no mocktails. Allowing these tastes shows you allow underage drinking or that alcohol is "special." Make sure to communicate to your kids that you don't allow alcohol before they find themselves in a situation with alcohol.


Communication Foundations for Parents

Keep these top three communication tips in mind

Be a mirror

Reflect what your child says. “It seems like you need some help understanding why we have these rules. Is that right?”

Communicating and Parenting for Self-Esteem

Self-esteem: protection against risky behaviors

What is self esteem?

Children who have strong self-esteem feel good about themselves. A child who thinks “I am happy to be me” has strong self-esteem. Children with strong self-esteem believe in themselves, feel that what they do matters, are proud of their accomplishments, can handle frustration, and are more likely to be respected by others.

Q: How does low self-esteem influence alcohol use?

Children with low self-esteem are more likely to drink alcohol, smoke, and get involved in other risky behaviors during their teen years. They may be more likely to go along with what other kids are doing, see using alcohol as one way to make friends, and have a harder time saying no to peer pressure. Children with strong self-esteem are much less likely to have these problems.

Boosting a child’s self-esteem through words and actions

Tip #1: Show your affection

By giving hugs and saying “I love you,” and just having fun and laughing with them, parents make children feel good about themselves.



  1. Barnes GM & Welte JW. (1986). Patterns and predictors of alcohol use among 7-12th grade students in New York State. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 47(1), 53–62 (1986).

  2. Denise B. Kandel & Kenneth Andrews (1987) Processes of Adolescent Socialization by Parents and Peers, International Journal of the Addictions, 22:4, 319-342,

  3. Ellickson PL & Hays RD. (1991). Antecedents of drinking among young adolescents with different alcohol use histories. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 52(5), 398–408 (1991).

  4. Dennis V Ary, Elizabeth Tildesley, Hyman Hops & Judy Andrews (1993) The Influence of Parent, Sibling, and Peer Modeling and Attitudes on Adolescent Use of Alcohol, International Journal of the Addictions, 28:9, 853-880, DOI: 10.3109/10826089309039661

  5. Renee E. Sieving, Geoffrey Maruyama, Carolyn L. Williams & Cheryl L. Perry (2000) Pathways to Adolescent Alcohol Use: Potential Mechanisms of Parent Influence, Journal of Research on Adolescence, 10:4, 489-514, DOI: 10.1207/SJRA1004_06

  6. Jackson C. (2002). Perceived legitimacy of parental authority and tobacco and alcohol use during early adolescence. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 31(5), 425–432.

  7. Peggy L. Peterson, J. David Hawkins, Robert D. Abbott & Richard F. Catalano (1994) Disentangling the Effects of Parental Drinking, Family Management, and Parental Alcohol Norms on Current Drinking by Black and White Adolescents, Journal of Research on Adolescence, 4:2, 203-227, DOI: 10.1207/s15327795jra0402_3

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