How to set expectations with your teenager about alcohol

group toasting glasses

As your child transforms into a fully-fledged teen, they will be required to navigate a tricky time full of challenging environments and temptations, many of which involve drugs and alcohol. While this can be tough as a parent, it’s also an opportunity for you to model positive behaviours and set expectations around alcohol and help inform your child's attitude towards drinking.

But how can you best prepare your teen without running the risk of pushing them away?

Ask questions about alcohol

When it comes to talking with your teen about alcohol, not only is honesty the best policy, it's also the best way for you to set clear expectations. Use questions to both convey what you expect, while also gaining an understanding of their attitude towards alcohol.

These include:

  • asking them what they know about the effects of alcohol. Abusing alcohol is more than just a one-day hangover, and helping your teen understand the physical and mental consequences of binge drinking is a responsible way of educating them.

  • finding out what their views are on getting drunk and using drugs

  • asking them if their friends drink often and how much

  • asking if there will be alcohol at the party they are going to

  • asking if there will be adults supervision.

Communication is key

Being upfront and transparent about drinking behaviours will take the secrecy away from the topic and clear the air for an open and honest discussion.

It also makes it easier to:

  • know where they are and who they are with

  • prepare teens to deal with peer pressure. If they are going to a party but don't want to drink, help them come up with an answer they feel comfortable with when people ask them why they aren't getting drunk.

  • convey your concerns in a way that shows you're caring and considerate. Reinforce that you trust their judgement, but just want to make sure they’re safe. It’s also a good idea to have these chats regularly, instead of having them right before your teen is meeting friends or going to a party. That way it will feel more like an even conversation and less like a lecture.

Be aware of your actions

Research has shown that parental behaviours are one of the most influential factors when it comes to young people's relationship with drinking. If you're determined to set healthy expectations for your teen about alcohol, then you need to be aware of the impact of your own actions.

Remember to:

  • drink in moderation and talk to your teen about the nature of limits: how quickly you can go too far and what happens when you do.

  • don't drink and drive: Use public transport or get an Uber/taxi.

  • never ask them to fetch your drinks; otherwise, you risk normalising the consumption of alcohol which can make it confusing for your teen when you try and set boundaries.

Practicing safe and smart drinking

If you've discussed the risks surrounding drinking, but your teen decides to drink anyway, safety should be your first priority. Making sure they develop behaviours that will keep them safe is a benefit for you and your teen.

This includes:

  • pacing their drinks and subbing in a glass of water in between each one.

  • making sure they eat before or during a party

  • offering to pick them up from wherever they're going or pre-arrange transport that doesn't involve them driving

  • making sure they’re not pre-drinking before they go out.

If you can discuss alcohol use with your teen openly and without being judgemental, they'll be more likely to tell you honestly what's going on. That way, you'll be able to intervene if you need to, mainly if your teen is at risk in some way.

Knowing where to get help and learning from situations that go wrong can be a valuable part of your teen's learning how to drink safely.

You'll find plenty of support services that can help you here, and you can filter by type of service and location.

Did you find what you needed?

  • I need to know more - Read our fact sheet about alcohol.