Talking with Your Teen

Having ongoing conversations with your teen about the little things can help build a healthy, supportive relationship. It can also help you and your teen address the big things, like alcohol use, in a way that minimizes conflict

Tips for talking with your child:

  • Frequently talk AND LISTEN to your teen about how things are going in their life.  Try to find time to talk and really connect with them every day.
  • Use “teachable moments” to raise alcohol issues.  Use public service announcements, stories on the news, TV plot lines, pop culture or current issues at school or in the community to spur on conversation.
  • Let your teen know you disapprove of any youth use of alcohol or other drugs*; teens who believe their parents will be upset if they try drugs are 43% less likely to do so.
  • Be clear and focus on the risks of alcohol use on your teen’s health and safety.  Let your teen know you love them and don’t want anything bad to happen to them.
*You may want to point out that the exception to “no use” is the medical use of medicines prescribed by a physician.  However, even those medicines can be abused, by using more than directed.  Even “over the counter” drugs can be dangerous if not used as directed.

6 Skills to Practice When Talking to Your Teen, from the Partnership at

Be brief:

Avoid long comments and conversations that might be seen as lecturing. Allow your teen to speak and let him know that he is being heard. Giving him the floor by asking brief open-ended questions such as, “What are some of the reasons you think those kids were drinking?,” can produce much more effective and interactive conversations than simply telling him why people who use drugs are making poor decisions.

Be positive:

Stay upbeat and avoid blaming. Teens need to hear the “good stuff” just like the rest of us. When you reward good behavior kids are likely to repeat it. (Example: “You did a great job leaving that situation early, it shows you are an independent person and I’m proud of you.”)

Refer to specific behaviors:

State what you want – not what you don’t want – and identify exactly what you want your child to do in terms of specific actions (Example: “ I want you to be home by eleven o’clock.” Versus “You need to think more responsibly when you come home.”)

Label your feelings:

State how you feel (not what you think) calmly in a non-judgmental manner (Example: “I care about you and I worry when you aren’t home on time.”) If your teen dismisses you and says, “Don’t worry,” acknowledge her feelings, but remind her that it is your job to protect her.

Offer an understanding statement:

Convey some understanding of your child’s perspective (Example: “I know you really want to fit in with your friends…”)

Accept Partial Responsibility:

This can be very hard to do, but it can be very helpful in connecting with your child (Example: “I may not have told you what I expected as clearly as I could have…”)