Underage drinking and substance use poses special risks to young people. Parents are encouraged to set family rules and consequences concerning underage drinking and drug use. Use these tips to help guide these conversations.

Elementary Years

Children Showing Their Painted Hands.It may seem too early to talk about alcohol and drugs with your elementary aged children, but by the time you get to middle school it may be too late! According to the Missouri Student Survey, Missouri youth begin drinking or vaping by about age 13! That’s 7th grade.

There are many things you can do to build strong ties to your child. Developing a close relationship early on will make it easier to enforce rules later.

  • Set aside regular times when you can give your child your full attention.
  • Talk about their likes and dislikes.
  • Let them know you love them.
  • Emphasize their self-worth.
  • Building strong bonds of trust and affection will help them be resilient in the years to come!

To prevent your elementary-aged children from going on to use alcohol or other drugs, try these tips:

  • Praise your child for taking good care of their bodies and avoiding things that might harm them.
  • Explain why adults may drink alcohol but children may not, even in small amounts – it’s harmful to children’s developing brains and bodies.
  • Talk to your child about the dangers and side effects of alcohol. Explain that alcohol is different than food and other drinks. Let your child know that people who drink too much alcohol get sick and throw up. Explain that too much alcohol can make some people stressed, angry and violent.
  • Watch TV with your children. When alcohol, vaping, or other drugs are brought up, ask them what they know and feel about them.
  • Set clear rules. Make sure your child knows your no-use expectations and the consequences.
  • Be a role model. If you drink alcohol, vape, or smoke, be mindful of the message you are sending to your children. Do not involve your children in adult behaviors (restrict them from touching, sipping, mixing, or fetching any alcohol or other drug).
  • Get to know your child’s friends. Make sure their friends’ parents have similar values and convey the same messages you give your children.

Middle Years

Middle yearsEven though your child may tell you otherwise, what you say does have an influence on their life.

Research shows that parents have more influence over their child than friends, music, TV, the Internet, and celebrities.

Use these tips to help start, and continue, the conversation.



  • Bring up the subject when you are both relaxed and can have a calm conversation. Don’t be in a rush.
  • Allow your child to speak without interruption.


  • Explain the facts about alcohol and drugs. Convey that alcohol is a drug that depresses the entire body and it can change the way you make decisions. Explain the difference between responsible drinking, binge drinking (five or more drinks in two hours), and alcohol dependence.
  • Don’t threaten or state ultimatums. Make sure your child understands your rules but avoid general threats, such as “I better not catch you drinking or else.”
  • Set your family rules concerning alcohol and substance use and communicate these to your child. Set a no-use family policy and communicate the consequences if it were to be broken.
  • Encourage your child not to drink or use drugs because:
    • It is illegal and they may be arrested.
    • It can make them sick.
    • Drinking and drug use can lead to sexual assault and other dangerous situations and consequences
    • Drinking now might lead to addiction later – the younger the person starts drinking or using drugs, the greater the chance they will develop substance use problems and addiction later in life.


  • Empower your child’s healthy decisions. Give them opportunities to make their own decisions (choosing the movie or dinner). Build their confidence and assure them they are strong enough to fight off peer pressure.
  • Express your respect and admiration of your child. Tell your son or daughter you are proud of them for being able to handle tough situations. When you catch them doing the right thing, compliment them for it!

Take Action:

  • Get to know your child’s friends and their parents. Make sure your child knows that parents talk to each other, and you hear what’s going on in school.
  • Do your research and learn as much as you can about alcohol, vaping, drugs, and other trends.


High School

High schoolAs high school students grow up, many parents underestimate the harms and dangers of underage drinking or drug use. As a result, more kids use. For example, in the Northland, nearly 32% of our youth believe it is “okay” for them to drink alcohol. As a result, one out of every 4 high school students drank alcohol in the last 30 days. The research shows that teens still care what their parents think. Express how concerned you are for their safety and the disappointment you would feel if they were to use alcohol or other drugs.

Try these tips to protect your teen from alcohol and other drugs.


  • Be an active listener.
  • Bring up the subject when you are both relaxed and can have a calm conversation. Don’t be in a rush.
  • Allow your teen to speak without interruption.


  • Communicate the realistic dangers and harms of drug use and underage drinking.
  • Emphasize your concern for their health and safety.
  • Explain that you believe they’re responsible, but alcohol and other drugs are harmful for their body. Your teen is not yet an adult yet, so no amount of alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, or other drug is safe for them.
  • Alcohol, nicotine, and other drug use is not legal for minors to consume in the USA. You are protecting them from legal consequences.
  • Drinking alcohol or using drugs now can lead to dependence and addiction later in life. You are protecting their future.


  • Healthy and safe alternatives when spending time with friends, such as going to a movie or playing a sport in the park.
  • Express how proud you are of them and all of their achievements. Compliment their strengths and continue to stay involved!

Take Action:

  • Be specific and strict when it comes to alcohol and other drugs.
  • Set clear rules and know where you stand! For example, be sure your child knows your expectation for them to stay alcohol-free until age 21, no exceptions.
  • Learn about the harmful effects of alcohol and other drugs on youth and make sure all the adults in your house are also aware and on the same page.
  • Establish a “no drug use” rule for your kids, including alcohol. Work with your child to establish a fair contract. Explain the consequences for breaking these rules and follow through if a rule is broken. Find out more about the dangers of alcohol, sample family contracts, and more resources.

4 Communication Tips

Be Clear

Be clear and focus on the risks of alcohol use on your child’s health and safety.  Let your child know you love them and don’t want anything bad to happen to them.

Take a Stand

Let your child know you disapprove of any drug/alcohol use – children who believe their parents will be upset if they try drugs are 43% less likely to do so.  Take a stand and let your child know that you disapprove of alcohol use.


Use “teachable moments” to raise alcohol issues.  Use public service announcements, stories on the news, TV plot lines, pop culture or current issues at school or in the community to spur on conversation.

Talk Often

Frequently talk AND LISTEN to your child about how things are going in their life.  Try to find time to talk and really connect with your child every day.

Want more help? Download our conversation tips!