The adolescent years are a time of pushing boundaries and experimentation as teens stand on the cusp of becoming adults. Unfortunately, this time often involves alcohol, which can lead to a variety of dangerous situations. Although schools are now making great efforts to educate teens on the negative effects of drinking, there is no substitute for a conscientious parent addressing the subject with their child. However, because it is common for teens and their parents to clash during these volatile years, it may be difficult to approach the subject in a way they will actually listen. Patience, calm and consistency will all be required to effectively approach this all important subject.
One of the first things you should do as a parent is keep a line of communication open with your child from an early age. Talk to them about drinking and the dangers involved so that when your child is at an age to actually be at real risk, it isn't a conversation coming out of the blue. As they approach the teenage years, talk with them about the kinds of things that may tempt them to try alcohol, such as peer, reducing stress or escaping current reality. Once a teen knows what the triggers are, he can come up with an answer for potential situations.
Discuss real world consequences such as violent attack, drunk driving and legal ramifications. Because the human brain does not fully finish developing until the mid-twenties, alcohol abuse during the adolescent years can cause real damage, and in some cases, open the door to alcoholism later in life. Your teen needs to understand that you are not simply out to ruin the party, but that there is a reason that drinking isn't allowed until adulthood. Set rules and consequences for your child and make sure that they are clearly stated. Teens who know that their parents are aware and will be checking up on them are less likely to experiment.
Approach the subject calmly. If you suspect that your child has been drinking, ask open ended questions without being emotional or accusatory. Be willing to listen, even if you know that the end result is still going to be the previously discussed consequence. It may be necessary to discuss with your teen what their plan of action is if they find themselves at a gathering that includes alcohol. Let him know that the consequences don't apply if he calls you in order to be picked up from the situation before he drinks. He should feel like he can call without repercussions if he is removing himself from temptation, when the alternative might be drunk driving or other dangerous situations. Teens who are anxious to avoid a confrontation will most often choose the path of least resistance. Show him that you are willing to be rational if he is willing to show that he can be responsible in the face of temptation.
Talking to your teen about alcohol is not a one time conversation. Talk early and talk often. Keep that line of communication open, whether or not your teen wants to. Make sure that he knows that although you understand that there are areas where he is entitled to his privacy and reasonable responsibility, you will be relentless when it comes to questions of his safety. There should be no question in your teens mind regarding how you feel about underage drinking or how you will react if you find evidence of it. Researchers have found that college students whose parents were open with them about drinking throughout their teen years were 20 times more likely to develop healthy drinking patterns as young adults. Studies also showed that parental talks were fairly ineffective when they didn't occur until after their child left for college.
It is an unfortunate fact that your teen is more than likely to be tempted with alcohol at some point before he hits adulthood. It is your job, as a parent, to make sure he is as prepared for that occurrence as possible. Keep the discussion current, even if you aren't sure if it is landing where it should. Your teen hears more than you think. If you are parenting a teen who has a problem with drinking, contact us at Liahona Academy to discuss the programs we offer and the ways we can help your son overcome substance abuse. We are a full time residential facility located in Utah and we have years of experience in helping teen boys move beyond their behavioral issues and become happy, healthy young men. 1-855-587-1416.
Tyler Clark is the Online Outreach Coordinator for Liahona Academy. Liahona Academy is located in Utah and specializes in behavioral management for teen boys.