UK flag[ Home | Email | Info | Medical Board ]


Every parent must think through how best to introduce their children to the pleasures and pitfalls of alcohol consumption. It is important that children are given accurate and balanced advice about alcohol. You may think your children will encounter alcohol whatever you do, so what’s the point of talking about alcohol? Well, the first part is true; your teens will come across alcohol via their friends, at parties and in their everyday lives as they get older. Some will have tasted alcohol in the family home or at a celebration – and it you, in kids’ opinion, that are the most important influence as to when and how much they drink,through: the example you set, the house rules, the allowance and freedoms you allow them. According to the 2012 GfK Roper Youth Report, 73% of children ages 13 to 17 say that their parents are the number one influence on whether they drink alcohol.

As your teenagers get older knowing about the law, keeping them safe and setting boundaries are key too. This section gives tips and guidance for you to approach the issue of drinking with your children, teenagers or students. Talking about it early on will help your child to understand alcohol and its effects, and make sensible choices about drinking in the future.

The Canadian low risk guidelines advise that as alcohol can harm the way the body and brain develop. Teens should speak with their parents about drinking. If they choose to drink, they should do so under parental guidance; never more than 1–2 drinks at a time, and never more than 1–2 times per week. They should plan ahead, follow local alcohol laws and consider the Safer drinking tips you can view in this brochure. Youth in their late teens to age 24 years should never exceed the daily and weekly limits

Practical ways to delay teen drinking (Click here for more information)

Research shows that the younger a person is when they start to drink regularly, the greater their risk of alcohol-related problems later in life. By highlighting the short term effects of getting drunk, such as being sexually assaulted or robbed, plus the embarrassment of looking a fool in front of their mates, you can help delay the age that teenagers start drinking and the amount they consume. This is more effective than just saying ‘don’t’. These tips should help:

  • Encourage sports, hobbies, clubs and social activities that keep your kids active and fulfilled.
  • Teenagers cite boredom and hanging around with nothing to do as one reason for drinking.
  • Establish routines, like mealtimes, that mean you can spend some time together and to talk to each other. This helps your child to feel they can come to you if they have a problem.
  • Make sure you know the facts and laws about alcohol and can talk in a balanced and constructive way about the pros and cons of drinking.
  • Talk and listen to your teenager. It is important that they hear your views and that you hear theirs.
  • Use everyday opportunities, for example a storyline in a TV programme, as a prompt.
  • Make sure the ground rules are clear, discuss them with all family members, and be clear about what is allowed and not allowed.
  • Have consequences for breaking rules and enforce them such as stopping their allowance or grounding them.
  • If your teenager is going to a party, drop them off and pick them up or book a cab.
  • Agree the time they will be leaving the party. Your kids will hate it, but always check slumber and party plans - ring other parents and check who’s in charge.
  • Check where they’re going and who they’re with, and always make sure they’ve got a fully charged mobile with them.
  • Be careful where you leave alcohol in the house. Know how much you have and check it regularly. If you are away for the night it is unfair to your teenagers to leave them in a situation where they have access to a large supply of drink.
  • Supervise parties at home and always serve food. Be careful how invitations and photos are posted on social media sites and ensure that there is adult supervision of parties in friends’ homes.

Set an example

Over a twelve month period, the teenage Britons, Irish and Swedes are twice as likely to have binge drinking occasions compared to the Italians and the French. Their lack of 'binge' culture is often explained by the Mediterranean lifestyle whereby alcohol is introduced at mealtimes and by the drinking environment which revolves around family meals, cafes and restaurants rather than bars and clubs. In a report on 'Binge drinking: Causes, Consequences and Cures', Adrian Furnham suggests that parents play the central and the most powerful causative role in establishing drinking patterns. Upbringing determines the child’s values, media consumption, friendships and expenditure as well as setting an example by their own drinking. It is vital for parents to recognize the excitement and rewards offered by drinking as part of ‘independence’. Demonizing alcohol is counter productive, so get talking!

Get talking – when do you start?

Children are naturally curious about alcohol - they see people drinking and they want to know more. Kids will be influenced by their friends,their teachers, TV,films and the media – but in most cases, parents have the biggest effect on their children’s behaviour, including how they drink alcohol. So you’re in a good position to make sure they have the facts about alcohol and drinking, and can make sensible choices in the future.

At what age should I talk about drinking?

Very young children

By the time a child is aged five, research shows they have already formed basic attitudes and opinions about alcohol. If you drink at home, your children are bound to ask questions at an early age about what you are drinking and what it tastes like.It is tempting to say ‘wait until you are older’, but it is worth explaining to your child that little bodies can’t digest alcohol, which is ‘strong’ so they should wait until they are one size fits all message, but gearing your conversation to different ages helps.

13 – 14 year-olds

It is at this age that a child may well try alcohol, so it’s important to talk an early stage and for your child to have an understanding of drinks, how alcohol affects the body and liver, why young bodies can’t cope with alcohol and the risks they run by experimenting. This is why the low risk guidelines recommend caution and limits, as their brains and livers are not fully developed and are more liable to damage than adults. Growing up is an awkward time, reaching puberty, their social lives changing, relationships and peer pressure growing - and probably being less open with you. Try not to force the subject, wait until the subject comes up via the TV, the media or similar. Put a conversation about drinking in context with other ‘life skills’, such as staying safe, talking about drugs and what sex is all about. You might think your ‘baby’ is too young for all this, but unfortunately in this savvy world they’ll be more informed than you think! A good approach is often to talk about an embarrassing or dangerous situation you, or someone you know, got into when young and the consequences.

Top Tips for Staying safe - A guide to help young people stay safe at parties, on holiday and when planning to drink

Party survival guide - A night out

Older teenagers

Finding the right balance between protecting your child and giving them freedom isn’t easy. You can’t be by their side all the time, and they wouldn’t thank you for it anyway. However, with communication and trust, you can help them to make the right decision in a tricky situation, learn from their mistakes, come to you for advice when needed and still stay safe. Research shows that older teenagers often experiment with alcohol in the company of their friends, but if their parents have been good and open role models, they are less likely to develop bad habits with respect to alcohol.

Young adults

Once your child has gone to college or is living away from home for the first time, it is harder to influence them and you have no control over the time they come home or how they drink and eat. The path to self-respect and independence should have been properly laid already, but the following advice might help:

  • Highlight the dangers of drunkenness, such as not getting home safely, looking a fool in front of their friends or partners and the risk of unprotected sex, assault and theft.
  • Encourage them to pace themselves by alternating with soft drinks, to eat before going out and to be aware of the alcohol levels of different drinks.
  • Tell them to keep their mobiles fully charged and with them when going out and to work out how they will get home before they go.
  • Remind them to never to Leave their drink as it could be spiked
  • Drink and drive
  • Take a lift from someone they suspect has taken drink or drugs Leave a party or venue on their own at night.

For more information see

Province Legal age
Alberta 18
British Columbia 19
Manitoba 18
New Brunswick 19
Newfoundland and Labrador 19
Northwest Territories 19
Nova Scotia 19
Nunavut 19
Ontario 19
Prince Edward Island 19
Québec 18
Saskatchewan 19
Yukon 19

The Law

It is important to ensure you are not breaking the law.

Few states specifically prohibit minors' consumption of alcohol in private settings and/or in the presence of a parent or guardian. In most provinces of Canada the legal age to serve or drink alcohol on premise is nineteen (except for Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta, where it is 18). In Canada, there is no federally defined legal drinking age—each province and territory sets its own limits.

The legal age for purchasing, possessing, consuming and/or supplying alcohol in each province and territory is listed in the table below.

Drink responsibly

View Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guideline.

To view a table of International legal drinking ages click here

Further sources:

Family Talk
About Drinking


© 2000 Alcohol in Moderation. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Disclaimer