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Talking to Yo= ur Adolescent Who Drinks
by Kay Hurlock, Psy.D.
Psychology Associates of North
All Rights Res= erved 0922//07
Talking to your teenager about alcohol can be a diffic= ult conversation. You may find yo= urself fumbling about and rarely making any considerable point except, “don’t drink and don’t get in the car with someone who has been drinking.” The ant= i-drug talk is important, but what do you do when you suspect your teenager is drinking? How do you take tha= t next step from “Don’t drink.” to “Let’s talk about your drinking.”? Parents often avoid this because an argument with your child is imminent. Further, a situation is produced w= here the adolescent feels they are being lectured rather than spoke to as an ind= ividual.
Results of a 2006 study, from the Substance Abuse and = Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), reported the rate of underage drinking, ages 12 to 20, has remained constant since 2002, at 28.3 percent<= sup>1. In 2006, about 10.8 million adoles= cents and young adults aged 12 to 20 reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Ma= ny do not involve simple experimentation. Of these, approximately 7.2 million were binge2 drinkers,= and 2.4 million were heavy3 drinkers1. More males than females aged 12 to 20 reported current alcohol use, binge drinking, and hea= vy drinking in 20061. The reality of these statistics is that your teenager may already be drinking a= nd parents need to be ready to deal with this situation.
So how do you get started? Practice the conversation you hope= to have. Rehearsing with your pa= rtner, spouse, or even a friend will help you stay on topic. It may also help to educate yourself about teenage alcohol use. Many user-friendly websites are available for parents and caregivers. Having some facts before= you talk to your teen, will help you understand what’s normal and what’s not.
Tips for talk= ing to your teenager
· Envi= ronment & Body Language - How you approach your child is extremely important. Choose somewhere t= hat both you and your child will feel comfortable and undistracted. Make sure you are both sitting facing each other, where you are able to maintain= eye contact. Keep your body open = and don’t cross your arms if you become upset with your teen. Crossing your arms will make you a= ppear unapproachable and defensive. Give nonverbal support and encouragement by nodding your head and smiling.
· Cont= rol your reaction to their admittan= ce – If your teen does admit to drinking, be sure to control your reacti= on to this information. Remainin= g calm and maintaining your cool will keep the communication open and honest.
· Open= ended questions – Teens are notorious for a “Yes,” “No,” or “I don’t know answer.” Don’t give them that option!= Ask questions that will get a more= than a one-word response.
For examp= le:  = ;What is it like to be a teenager = in high school today?
= &nb= sp; Tell me about how you f= eel when you drink. &nbs= p; <= /p>
How can we make our talks more meaningful for yo= u?
<= span style=3D'font-family:Symbol;mso-fareast-font-family:Symbol;mso-bidi-font-fa= mily: Symbol'>· Reph= rase – Try rephrasing your teen’s comments to indicate you have understo= od. If you rephrase the wrong information, your teen will let you know he or she h= as not been heard correctly.
· Enco= urage continued open communication – Thank your teenager for taking the time to talk to you and acknowledge your gratitude for their honesty. Your teenager will appreciate you = are listening with genuine concern and respect.
So what happens after the talk? First, you need to assess your teen’s needs. You will = want to find out the extent of your child’s drinking. Is it able to be controlled with r= eforming family rules and structure or does your teen need additional help? What limits or consequences can be agreed on? Are there any incentives to discontinue or change the behavior?<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'> Can the adolescent or young adult refocus their time and priorities with more productive activities that tend= to preclude drinking? If you do = choose to seek help, several options are available, including individual and group therapy from a professional, as well as self-help groups. It may be best to talk to your teen about your concerns and desire to get them professional help. Remain supportive and open to their concerns and/or resistance to help.
Kay Hurlock, Psy.D. is a Ps=
Resident with Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida, P.A.
2121 NW 40th Terrace, Suite B,
Other websites of interest:
(1) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration. (2007). Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug U=
and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series
H-32, DHHS Publication No. SMA 07-4293).