How to Stop Underage Drinking

By Tanya Konerman
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According to KidsHealth.org, nearly 80 percent of high school students have tried alcohol. Drinking under the age of 21 is not only illegal, it’s dangerous too, a fact tweens and teens who drink alcohol looking for fun times often don’t realize. Teens who drink run the risk of accidents, brain damage, addiction, increased risk of sexual assault, memory loss and -- for 4,700 kids a year -- death. Parents can and must play a vital role in helping teens to say no to underage drinking.

Start Talking

Research shows parents are the top reason teens choose to avoid alcohol, so start early with open and respectful lines of communication. Talk to your teen about the dangers of underage drinking in general, as well as drinking and driving or riding with someone who has been drinking. Ask open-ended questions to promote discussion, and keep your emotions in check, suggests the National Institute of Health. In this way, your teen is more likely to come to you with questions or concerns about alcohol or alcohol-related issues. Also, brainstorm and role play with your teen ways he can avoid alcohol without embarrassment, if or when he is offered it.

Set Expectations

First and foremost, let your teen know you do not approve of underage drinking. Explain your household rules involving alcohol, as well as consequences for breaking those rules. Beyond the basic rule of not drinking alcohol under the age of twenty-one, be sure to also discuss limits on staying at parties where alcohol is being served or consumed by underage drinkers, and the expectation that older siblings will not provide alcohol to younger siblings or encourage underage drinking. Consider having your teen sign a contract pledging to avoid underage drinking as well.

Monitor Regularly

Keep track of any alcohol you have in your home, such as where it is stored and how much you have. Also, keep an eye on your teen’s activities with friends and online. If he goes to a friend’s house, ask if parents will be home and if alcohol will be present. Remind him of your rules, and be willing to talk to other parents as needed to confirm they know your family’s rules involving your teen. Enforce your teen's curfew, too, and talk to him about his night out when he returns home.

Model Behavior

Our kids look to us to learn how to behave, so be a good role model when it comes to alcohol too. Don’t over-indulge in front of your teen, or offer him a drink at home, which sends a mixed message. You can also show him how parties can be fun without alcohol by hosting an event where no alcohol is served. Never drink and then drive or ride in a car with someone who has been drinking. And show your teen that there are other ways to cope with stress besides having a drink, such as exercise.

About the Author

Based in Bloomington, Ind., Tanya Konerman is a writer/editor with more than 20 years of experience. Her work has appeared in "At-Home Mother," "Parents," "Career Woman," "Employment News," "Bloomington Business Network," "Bloomington Monthly" and the "Herald-Times." She also worked in advertising and public relations for 10 years. Konerman holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and psychology from Indiana University.