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How to talk to your teen

It’s alarming to think that many kids in western Nebraska have their first drink of alcohol as young as age 13, but it’s true. The best way to prevent it from happening to your child is to be armed with good information and to keep an open dialogue going with your child about your thoughts, wishes and values, as they pertain to drug and alcohol use. Statistics show that when parents talk to their children about alcohol or drugs, children are 42% less likely to try them.

Talking to your teen
  • Engage in active listening with your child. Ask about their life often and listen without interruption.
  • Ask open ended questions that do not lead to simple yes or no answers.
  • Listen to your child’s viewpoint and seek to understand it.
  • Be measured in your reaction to what you might hear. Control your emotions and don’t respond with anger.
  • Try not to lecture or do all the talking. Have a discussion with your teen. Keep calm, making sure to hear what they are saying to you. Take a moment to collect your thoughts before you respond.

Frequent and often discussions
One conversation won’t cut it. Information about underage drinking and alcohol use is important enough to repeat again and again. Not only should you initiate conversations with your child about drugs and alcohol, but you should answer their questions as frequently as they ask them.

Kids talk to their friends for hours every day in-person or on-line, influencing each other and feeding each other all kinds of information. How much do your kids hear from you?

Answering the toughest question - Did you drink when you were underage?
If you are a parent who didn’t try alcohol before you were 21, congratulations! This conversation should be easier for you.

However, even if you are a parent who used before you were of-age, there are a couple of effective ways to handle the “why was it okay for you to drink and not for me” question.

If you are not comfortable sharing your history as it relates to drug and alcohol use, then don’t. Refocus your child on the importance of not using drugs and alcohol. Tell your child that you are not comfortable sharing that kind of information with them.

The other approach is to admit you drank while underage, sharing some of the negative, embarrassing or painful memories with them. Make sure they know your regrets and appreciation for how much more we know now about the dangers and consequences of drug and alcohol use. Remember, we know now much more now than we did then about how alcohol affects the brain and body.

How you can help
  • Be clear with your child about your views on alcohol use. Make sure they know exactly how you feel.
  • Instill confidence in your child. Praise them often and let them know how proud you are of them when they do good things. The more confident your child is, the more likely he or she will be to resist peer pressure.
  • Encourage your child to join extra-curricular activities. When their day is not filled with productive, structured activities, your teen is more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
  • Teach your kids to say no. Talk to them about the best ways to get out of uncomfortable drug and alcohol-related situations. Role play with them.
  • Set firm but fair rules. Ask when they are going out, who they will be with, what they will be doing and which adult will be supervising.
  • Set fair and reasonable consequences for breaking the rules and consistently enforce them.
*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Family Guide.

Helpful resources
How to talk to your teen about alcohol

Make a difference; talk to your child about alcohol

Time to talk to your teen about alcohol

Talking to your kids about alcohol and drugs

Talk to your kids about alcohol
Statistics you should know
How to talk to your teen

Signs that your teen is using

Social hosting laws

Underage drinking laws

Risks of underage drinking

Health consequences


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Social Host Law

Contributing to a Minor Law

Is supported in whole or part, by federal or state funds received from Region 1 Behavioral Health Authority, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Division of Behavioral Health and Tobacco Free Nebraska Program as a result of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

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