You love your teenager, and you always have their best interests in mind. Lately, you’ve noticed your teen has been acting differently. They’ve been missing curfews, hanging out with a different friend group, and are being very vague about their plans. As a parent, you know that your job is to protect them, so you notice these little changes in behavior. You’re beginning to suspect that your teen could be drinking, but you aren’t sure. So what can you do?
The first thing to do is to take a deep breath in, and don’t act out of fear or frustration. You might not know the whole situation, and jumping to conclusions can damage your relationship and cause your teen to resent you for not trusting them. You don’t want to drive them further away, but you certainly want them to know that they cannot be drinking at their age.
You're calm and cool; now it’s time to listen to your teen. Get all the facts, and understand why you are feeling suspicious that they are drinking. Maybe you smelled alcohol on them, or you caught them in a lie. Let your teen give you their side of the story. Try not to accuse them or place blame. Be open, supportive and honest with your teen and hopefully they will do the same in return. While they’re talking, give them your undivided attention. Don’t answer any calls or texts. Your attention will let them know that you are serious and care about this matter.
After you give them time to share their side of the story, you have a chance to remind them of your family’s rules. One way to do this is to remind them that they must follow the law in your house, and since they are not yet 21, they cannot drink. Remember to set the tone with your teen that you are having a conversation, not a confrontation. This is about your teen’s health, and you should remind yourself to approach the conversation from a place of love, support and concern.
Once you have had an open conversation, and your teen admits to drinking, let them know that there will be consequences if the behavior continues. Be clear with what the consequences will be, and make sure you are direct with the conversation. Do not leave any room for misunderstandings about the consequences.
Now that you have laid out the consequences of drinking in the future, you should thank them for their honesty. Emphasize that it takes courage to tell the truth and remind them that you love them. Remind your teen that alcohol use is unhealthy, but making this mistake does not make them a bad person.
After you have had this conversation, it’s time to monitor your teen to see if your talk stopped the behavior. Make sure you ask them questions about who they’re spending time with, and be sure they are coming home before curfew. You can even send text them or call them if they are gone for long periods of time just to check-in.
If you find that they are continuing to drink, and the consequences you set aren’t making a difference, it might be time to consider seeking outside help. Do not let your pride as a parent get in the way of bringing in outside help. You are your teens biggest advocate and supporter, and if you think they need outside help with an alcohol problem, the best thing you could do as a parent is to encourage that. Whether it’s an inpatient or outpatient program, it can provide your teen stability, education, discipline, and counseling they need to get better.
For more information, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) provides a wide range of advice on talking to teens about alcohol use.