Parenting advice to help your teen stay sober

Parenting advice to help your teen stay sober

It is important for parents to understand that alcohol abuse at all ages is the #1 drug problem in the U.S. The most important step to keeping your teen sober is how a parent responds to the discovery that your teen has drank. Clear and strong consequences must be given at the first sign of teen drinking. The control and atmosphere about drinking you set in your home is crucial to keeping your teen sober.


Do take teens and drinking serious

Many parents respond to discovering that their teenager has been drinking with a sigh of relief. Often they feel that: “Well, at least they are not using drugs.“ If you discover your child has been drinking, this is very serious. Your response to this indiscretion is very important on setting the tone to prevent future incidents of drinking and other substance abuse. Give strong, firm, and consistent consequences upon the discovery that your teen drank.

Do model responsible drinking as an adult

Drinking in the U.S. is an adult privilege and an adult responsibility. Once you become a parent, from that day forward, it is imperative that your own drinking behavior is responsible and mature.

Do insist that all adults model responsible drinking

As important as it is for you to model mature drinking, so should your friends who drink. A mature adult doesn’t drink in excess, doesn’t drink to soothe their emotions or alter their mood or thinking. It is also important to do as much as you can that the adults in your home, at family functions, possibly school and community events as well, model appropriate drinking behavior. It is not funny when uncle Charlie drinks too much at your house and becomes comedic entertainment or aunt Sally can’t walk straight and keep her eyes open after heavy drinking at a family get together. It takes courage to be a parent. It will take every bit of that courage to speak up or even stop a relative or friend that is drinking inappropriately. But remember, you are speaking up for your children. A responsible parent doesn’t drink in excess and doesn’t allow other adults to drink in excess in their home.

Do speak up about drinking

Parenting is teaching. Don’t treat drinking as a secret in your household. There will be times when you can’t prevent the Uncle Charlies and Aunt Sallies from acting inappropriately, but we can use their immature behavior as a teaching moment. Don’t laugh at the person who is drunk and acting silly. Explain to your child how the drunken adult suffers consequences for their behavior, and be specific about these consequences as you know them.

Do discipline your teen if they drink

Teenage drinking is not only bad behavior, it is illegal. If you do not give strong consequences for your underage teen’s drinking you are supporting illegal behavior. Don’t dismiss the effects of ignoring drinking. Why should the teen obey family rules, school rules or even other laws if you turn your cheek on their drinking? Always speak with your child about the consequences of breaking the law, in and out of the house.


Do not be careless around your home with alcohol

Excessive amounts of liquor stored in the house is a temptation and careless. Liquor should be stored in a cabinet and not in plain view. Locking it up or storing it in a secret place makes liquor seem ‘special’ or ‘magic’ and can consequently become more desirable to your child as the forbidden fruit. Keep your liquor stored away out of sight, but don’t over do it.

Do not expect them to make good decisions without guidance

One of the most common mistakes parents make in parenting teens is to expect them to act like adults in all situations when they have not had experience at an adult responsibility like drinking. If they are going to a teen party, tell them before they go not to drink. If they are at a family party and you see a relative offer them an alcoholic drink, stop them and advise the relative that this is not allowed with your child.

Do not provide your teen alcohol

This is never the right thing to do. It seems elemental, but research shows that over 40% of teens who are drinking get their booze from adults and often these adults are their parents. Some studies indicate that a leading cause of this is that one parent is trying to be a ‘buddy’ to their teen by being cool or otherwise scoring points with their child by getting them their drinks. The adults then rationalize their actions by the old saying, “I rather they get it from me then out on the street. A variation of this mistaken behavior are when parents that host teen parties and also provide booze for their child’s friends. Their rational often also includes making sure that all the teen guests have designated drivers or insist that the teens put their car keys in a fishbowl before they enter the party. Though not drinking and driving is a good message to give teenagers, what’s the real message here? And, do these parents consider how the other teens’ parents feel about this?

Do not yell

If you find your teen has been drinking, it is important to give them consequences and these consequences need to be strong enough that the teen will not want to repeat the negative behavior. But, yelling, nagging, or lecturing are not consequences. In fact, they are signs that you as a parent has lost control and has started down the path of losing the battle with your child and drinking. The battle of the bottle, so to speak. You must remain firm and your body language should emphasize you mean business. Yelling doesn’t convey your seriousness. Teens don’t take yelling serious.

Do not lose faith in your child

Teenagers make mistakes. It is the parent’s job to help them learn from their mistakes. Your attitude toward drinking is no different. It is wrong, illegal, harmful, and against family rules, but consider your child’s other contributions to the family and to their school and community. They are not the spawn of the devil because they make a mistake. It is how they live their life after a mistake that is the measure of a healthy, successful adult.

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Keeping your teen sober takes the right steps in response to the discovery of your teen’s first use of alcohol. Discovering your teen has drank is a critical time in parenting. It sets the tone to prevent further incidents. Take this advice under consideration when you find your teen drinking.

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Dr. John E. MayerClinical Psychologist

Dr. Mayer is a national expert on teens and families. He has written over 20 books and over 60 scientific articles, most on helping teens and families. His latest non-fiction book, Family Fit- 2nd Edition will be available soon from Healthy Lear...

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