Parents are influential

Contrary to what you may have heard, teens still listen to their parents. Probably more than anybody else, including their friends. In a recent survey on underage drinking, teens reported that parental disapproval is the #1 reason they choose not to drink.


Parenting trumps peer pressure

Around age 11-13, most children naturally begin to push away from their parents. This is a normal part of development, but it causes many parents feel like they’ve lost the ability to influence their teenagers. While it may feel like they are tuning you out, most kids report that what their parents say really matters. So stay involved. You do make a difference!


Most of us do not want our teenaged children drinking alcohol. Yet many teens do. Not because their parents are okay with it, but because their parents are unaware. In a national survey, 31 percent of kids who said they had been drunk in the past year had parents who believed their children were non-drinkers.

There is no shortage of sobering facts out there:

1. About 75% of teens try alcohol outside the home before graduating from high school.


2. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), in the past month 1 of 5 students in the 10th grade got drunk and 1 of 3 students in the 12th grade got drunk.


3. The American Medical Association says approximately 11 million American youth under the age of 21 drink alcohol—nearly half of them drink to excess (consuming five or more drinks in a row, one or more times in a two week period).

So, the problem is real and it's pervasive. And the biggest thing standing between your teen and alcohol is YOU.


Many parents are shocked to learn that boys usually try alcohol for the first time at just 11 years old, while the average age for American girls’ first drink is 13. So the time to talk to your kids about alcohol is now.

The dangers of waiting are very real indeed. For example, children who begin drinking at age 13 have a 45% chance of becoming alcohol dependent. Perhaps an even greater danger is the way teen alcohol consumption can affect the development of the brain.

The prefrontal area of the brain is responsible for thinking, planning and impulse control. It undergoes tremendous change and development through adolescence. But adolescent drinking can cause severe changes in this area, which can be irreversible. The area of the brain involved in learning and memory may also not develop properly if a teen consumes alcohol.

Need more motivation to have the talk now?


While the problem is a big one, the solution is surprisingly simple. Of course, there are no guarantees, but the simple act of telling your teens you don’t want them drinking has a huge impact on them. Most teens cite parental influence as the number one reason they don’t drink.

Of course, how you talk to them matters. Making them aware of the consequences can help them understand why you're taking a stand on the issue. It can be even more powerful if you challenge them to think of possible consequences. "What do you think could go wrong?" "What do you think are the biggest dangers with teen drinking?"

Talk about situations where they might be offered alcohol, or even pressured to drink. Help them come up with answers so they're not at a loss for words at the wrong moment. Whether it's "I promised my folks I wouldn't" or "I've got a big test tomorrow, no drinks for me tonight" or "Coach says we're off the team if we drink", having that answer ready can make all the difference.

You can also give them an easy out—let them know that if they find themselves in a situation where alcohol is present, they can call you and you’ll come to pick them up.



  • Have dinner. Seriously, studies have shown that teens who eat dinner with their families 5 – 7 times a week are 33% less likely to use alcohol.


  • Ask about where your teens are going when they go out, and ensure that their social environments are alcohol-free.


  • Know who your children’s friends are. The single most predictive risk for underage drinking is if your child’s peers drink.


  • Everyday conversations matter, too, even when alcohol isn’t discussed. Many teens drink between the hours of 3:00 – 6:00 PM, when unsupervised by parents. A simple call to check in can be just the right influence at just the right time.

One in Five Parents Believe They Have Any Influence

May 28, 2013 | SAMHSA News Release

A new report indicates that more than one in five parents of teens aged 12 to 17 (22.3 percent) think what they say has little influence on whether or not their child uses illicit substances, tobacco, or alcohol. This report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also shows one in ten parents said they did not talk to their teens about the dangers of using tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs even though 67.6 percent of these parents who had not spoken to their children thought they would influence whether their child uses drugs if they spoke to them.

In fact national surveys of teens ages 12 to 17 show that teens who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of their substance use were less likely to use substances than other. For example, current marijuana use was less prevalent among youth who believed their parents would strongly disapprove of their trying marijuana once or twice than among youth who did not perceive this level of disapproval (5.0 percent vs. 31.5 percent).

"Surveys of teens repeatedly show that parents can make an enormous difference in influencing their children’s perceptions of tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drug use," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. "Although most parents are talking with their teens about the risks of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, far too many are missing the vital opportunity these conversations provide in influencing their children’s health and well-being. Parents need to initiate age-appropriate conversations about these issues with their children at all stages of their development in order to help ensure that their children make the right decisions."

Parents can draw upon a number of resources to help them talk with their children about substance use. One resource is SAMHSA’s "Navigating the Teen Years: A Parent’s Handbook for Raising Healthy Teens," available at