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What are We Teaching Our Kids?: How to Be a Positive Role Model with Alcohol

“Role Modeling is one of the most powerful tools you have in your parenting tool belt to influence the direction of your children’s character, whatever their age.”

My nine year old is my little shadow. She wants to be wherever I am, sit next to me at every meal, and raid my closet for her latest fashion creation.
As frustrating as it can be at times, I am happy to have my little shadow! See, I also have a 13 year-old who was socially-distancing before it was cool. The truth is that both my little shadow and my distant teen, like all kids, learn and mimic their surroundings.


Well into adulthood, our kiddos closely observe us as we manage our relationships, work, our health, and more. They note how we handle stress and whether we treat others with respect, show patience, act generously, and overall practice what we preach. And they tuck all of this away to use as they navigate their own lives.

Our use of alcohol is no different. As parents, role modeling when it comes to alcohol consumption is key to protecting our children from
the risks associated with underage drinking. These risks can include damaging and potentially permanent effects on impulsivity, memory, learning, and even mental health, and a greater risk for addiction. Some well-meaning parents believe that letting their children drink at home helps them develop an appropriate relationship with alcohol. Research suggests otherwise— in fact, adolescents who are allowed to drink at home drink more heavily outside of the home. In addition, adolescents whose parents have specific and strict rules against underage drinking (and also drink responsibly themselves) are less likely to drink heavily outside the home.

So whether you have a shadow, or you always live life 6 feet apart, how can you model responsible drinking as a parent? Here are some guidelines:

  • Explain to your child why alcohol is for adults only. Let them know their brain will continue to develop into their mid-20s, so waiting until the legal drinking age of 21 will help protect their growing brains. The Missouri Student Survey shows that the average age that our local kids first try alcohol is 13. This shows just how important it is to communicate with your child early and often about your strong stance against underage drinking, and set rules and expectations for your child. Be sure that during these conversations you take time to be curious, listen, and ask questions about their experiences and thoughts around alcohol. Their answers may surprise you!
  • Be a role model. If you drink alcohol, be mindful of how much and why you drink and what messages you might be sending to your children. Do not involve your children in adult behaviors. Restrict them from touching, sipping, mixing, or fetching alcohol for adults. It’s always a good idea to have a sober caregiver or parent present.
  • Control the context. As adults, we shouldn’t talk about drinking as a way to manage stress around kids — for example, “Today was terrible. I need a drink!” Instead, we should model healthier ways to manage stress like exercising, practicing deep breathing, or talking things over with your partner. We can put words to these actions and make the connection clear for our kids! For example, “Whew, I had such a stressful day! I’m going to take a walk to calm down and unwind.”
  • What if you drank as a teen? If you choose to share with your child that you drank as a teen, be sure to admit that it was a mistake and give examples of negative experiences that resulted, or could have resulted, from it. If your child asks you this question, a great response is “I did have a drink when I was younger. However, we didn’t know as much as we do now about the risks of alcohol. If I had known then, I would have done things differently. This is why I am talking to you about it. I want you to be safe, healthy, and happy.”
  • Practice what you preach: Never drive when you’ve been drinking or get into a vehicle with a driver who is impaired. You wouldn’t want your child to, so don’t do it yourself. Designate a sober driver in advance if you plan to drink.

  • If you have alcohol in your home, be sure to secure it away from kids and teens, and monitor the amount.

To learn more about alcohol and your health, visit the CDC’s FAQ page for alcohol. For more tips and tools for preventing underage drinking or talking to your child about alcohol and other drug use, check out our Parent Up Tools page

Tiffany is a local parent of two amazing kiddos, supporter of prevention, and has previously worked to prevent youth substance use in Platte County. This insight was first published on May 6, 2020 and has been updated by Parent Up staff for June 2024.

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