Guest Column

Talking with teens about alcohol

Dec. 16, 2010

By Shannon Ryan

In our society, alcohol is a glorified substance. It is in movies, television shows, music and, perhaps most importantly, it is present in our everyday lives. Talking about alcohol use can be a very difficult thing for parents to do with their teens. But believe it or not, parents do influence the choices their teens make. Although alcohol use can be an awkward topic, it is important for parents to talk about alcohol use with their kids.

Beforehand, arm yourself with knowledge. As a parent, you should be a credible source of information for your teen. Learn about the laws and risks associated with alcohol. For example, brains don’t fully develop until the mid 20s and teen drinking can permanently interfere with memory and learning. Knowing this information ahead of time will help with answering questions and backing up arguments.

After gathering the information, pick a time to chat. Make it an ongoing conversation. Use something, such as the phone bill, as a monthly reminder to talk to your teen. Use “teachable moments” such as a beer commercial or a scene in a movie to initiate the dialogue.

When it comes time to talk to your children, try not to lecture them. The last thing teens wants to do is listen to their parents drone on and on; they will zone you out. The key to getting through to your teen is to make alcohol use the topic of a two-way conversation. To get the dialogue going, try asking a question such as, “What do you think of …?” Genuinely listen and build off of your teen’s response. If your teen uses a third party example, keep an open mind. She could be talking about herself and testing the waters to see how much she may be willing to share with you. It is also entirely possible she is talking about someone else.

Along with talking with your teen, be sure to lead by example. Create a family no-use policy with appropriate, clear consequences. Although they may not show it, teens care about what their parents think and say. By creating this policy with your teen, expectations are made crystal clear to both parties without parents seeming controlling. After creating the policy and talking with your teen, keep the communication lines open. The goal is to make your teen comfortable talking with you about alcohol.

Williston resident Shannon Ryan is a student at Champlain Valley Union High School and a member of CY-Connecting Youth, a community based organization dedicated to creating a safe and healthy environment for young people in Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, St. George and Williston. For more information about CY, visit or