Talking to Your Teen: Underage Drinking

By Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

In 2015, 10,265 people died in drunk driving crashes—one every 51 minutes—and 290,000 were injured in drunk driving crashes.

When it comes to drunk driving and teens,  the go-to solution for many parents is to take away the keys. While that’s an effective prevention from automobile ignition, it does not really take away the greater danger at hand…underage drinking.

Did you know that fatalities linked to underage drinking and impaired driving only make up about one-third of those deaths? The other 75 percent of fatalities come from a combination of falls, fires, homicides, suicides, poisoning, and a myriad of other deadly consequences.  

Did you know that the human brain is not finished growing until about 25 years of age?  During the teen years, the brain is especially fragile because it is in the middle of a growth spurt.

Think back to when your kids were little.  How many photos do you have of their firsts?  We all have them.  Would it shock you to know that teens are learning just as rapidly as when they were toddlers?  It is true.

Alcohol and the Effects on Teen Development

Roughly between the ages of 13 to 21, we begin to master skills like situational analysis, judgement, discernment, and other important tasks. This complex mastery takes time, practice, and a healthy alcohol-free and other drug-free environment to flourish.

Additionally, the introduction of alcohol at a young age can lead to addiction. Teens who start drinking at age 14 or younger are five times more likely to become alcohol dependent and seven times more likely to make the dangerous choice of driving after drinking now or at some point in the future. Use your power as a parent to help your kids understand that alcohol can limit their options today and in the future!

What can be done?  You may think that underage drinking is a rite of passage, and an unwritten tradition of coming of age for everyone, right?  Not at all.  In fact, according to the study, Monitoring the Future underage drinking rates have been declining since 1997. Research shows the most effective prevention comes from an unexpected source, parents.  Multiple studies agree that 74 percent of teens base their final decision of whether or not to drink alcohol underage on their parents.  

Conversation: The Power of Parents

Talk now and talk often. They are listening, whether it feels like it or not. Your teen hears what you say. Have you ever had a pointed conversation about the rules of the house around alcohol?  Do your kids know what the punishment is for drinking underage?  Have you and your spouse had this discussion?  Do your kids know that it is NEVER ok to ride with a drinking driver, even when curfew hangs in the balance?

Having conversations with kids about topics like alcohol can seem intimidating, but here are some tips that can help.

Communicate early before a problem starts

Start having conversations now before there is a situation. Tell your kids that alcohol right now is dangerous and is not okay. Lay out the punishments and talk about how your kids can avoid danger.

Show you care

Tell your child you love them and that you are there for them and want the best for them. Let them know that you want them to make healthy choices.

Pay attention

Let them talk.  Listen to what they say. Don’t judge. Give them the respect you want for yourself.

Plan family activities

Have dinner together. Talk about your day. Make conversations a habit, a regular part of the day. This will help when it is time to talk about the big stuff.

Enforce Consequences.

When a rule is broken, enforce the consequences consistently. This shows your teens that rules are important and that they are there to keep them safe.   

For more tips on how to have critical conversations with your teens, check out MADD’s Power of Parents program at You can download a parent handbook there for lots of great research based information.  

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