Talk to Your Children About the Risks of Underage Drinking

By Jennifer Faringer


As summer winds down and a new school year approaches, consider providing clear, consistent rules and expectations for your children and setting the stage for ongoing open communication. 

This is by far the single most effective way to keep your children safe from the risks of underage drinking. 

Sharing a no-use message is crucial, as parents are the single most important influence in a child’s life. 

When is the best time to talk to your children about the risks of alcohol? 

There are messages you can share at every age. Even as early as preschool, your child has very likely already been exposed to alcohol whether online, on television or maybe in real life. During these early years, children are anxious to know the rules. They are forming attitudes as they watch family members interact around them. Consider the unspoken messages that you may be sending. 

During the elementary school years, children are becoming more interested in the world around them, often outside family and home. This is an especially important time to share with your children the risks and consequences of drinking. During their middle school years, children are beginning to test the waters, explore their independence, and starting to question authority figures. Yet at the same time, they understand the importance of rules and do appreciate limits. This is another opportunity to share not only the rules, but also the consequences if rules are broken. 

During high school, your children may know other young people who use alcohol or other drugs. This is an especially critical time to keep the lines of conversation open, giving your children the time and space to express their concerns and thoughts about alcohol use. Continue to talk to them about the risks associated with alcohol and other drug use. Share how these risks are connected to their safety and well-being whether that be through associated violence, driving under the influence, or unwanted sex. The wrong message is sent if we talk about underage use as an expected “rite of passage.” 

Beyond high school, stay connected and remind your now young adult about the inherent dangers of binge drinking, alcohol poisoning, and driving while intoxicated or high. It’s never too early or too late to have the conversation!

Jennifer Faringer is the director of DePaul’s National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence-Rochester Area.