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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 that they will encounter alcohol at college or via their social lives 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 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 teenagers or students. Talking about it early on will help them to understand alcohol and its effects, and make sensible choices about drinking in the future.

The US Dietary Guidelines state that there are many circumstances in which people should not drink alcohol, including anyone younger than the legal drinking age of 21. “Besides being illegal, alcohol consumption increases the risk of drowning, car accidents, and traumatic injury, which are common causes of death in children and adolescents”.


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 young adults start drinking and the amount they consume. This is more effective than just saying ‘don’t’. These tips should help: Practical ways to delay drinking (Click here for more information)

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?

Age 13

It is at this age that a child’s curiosity increases around alcohol, and they start to look more towards their peers and friends, so it’s important to talk an early stage and for your child to have an understanding of drinks, how alcohol affects the body, why young bodies can’t cope with alcohol and the risks they run by experimenting.

Teenagers 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 someone you know or have read about, got into when young and the consequences (try to avoid personal disclosure).

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.

(Please visit to find out about your State's under age policies).

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 water, juice or soda, to eat before going out and to be aware of the alcohol levels of different drinks.
  • Tell them to keep their cell phones 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

The Law

It is important to ensure you are not breaking the law. It is against the law for anyone under 21 to buy or drink alcohol in a bar, restaurant or store in the US (the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984). While the legal drinking age is 21 in all states, the legal details vary.

Some states do not allow those under the legal drinking age to be present in liquor stores or in bars (usually, the difference between a bar and a restaurant is whether food is being served). For details of the legal age for purchasing, possessing, consuming and/or supplying alcohol

To view a table of International legal drinking ages click here

Drink responsibly

The US Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025US Dietary Guidelines







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