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Resources for Parents & Other Caring Adults
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Underage Drinking Prevention Education Project

 Resources for Parents & Other Caring Adults

Video Resources



Parents are the Key to Preventing Underage Drinking

Virginia teens say they ride in cars with impaired drivers and that their parents don’t talk to them about underage drinking*. Mother and daugher cooking togetherIt is a fact that parents are the key to good decision making related to drinking and driving.

Research has shown that young people are less likely to drink when parents are involved in their lives and have close relationships with them.

Adolescents are less likely to drink and have alcohol related problems when their parents:

  • Have close relationships with them and are actively involved in their lives;
  • Message that underage drinking is unacceptable;
  • Set clear rules and expectations about drinking; and
  • Provide consistent, caring discipline for infractions.

And, while it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that teens are “safe” as long as they drink in your own home or under adult supervision; this may actually encourage underage drinking and result in higher levels of harmful alcohol consequences for young people… and for you. So:

  • Get to know your children’s friends;
  • Have regular conversations about life in general;
  • Remind your teens that most teens do not drink alcohol or use drugs;
  • Connect with other parents about sending clear messages about the importance of not drinking alcohol;
  • Do not make alcohol available to your children; and
  • Supervise all parties to make sure there is no alcohol.
* 2018 Choose Your Vibe twitter chats raise concerns about impaired teen drivers; Only 20% students in 2018 campus focus group recalled parent alcohol conversations before college.

Be Informed

Visit SAMHSA and CDC for more information.

Be a Good Role Model

Children inherit their parents' drinking behaviors and attitudes towards drinking. Parents who drink and drive contribute to youth engaging in illegal drinking behaviors with all the accompanying negative consequences. Parental permissiveness sends your child mixed messages and is consistently associated with negative drinking consequences as youth transition to college and adulthood.

  • Drink in moderation around children or better yet, not at all, and NEVER drive when you've been drinking.
  • Plan ahead and designate a non-drinking driver if you plan on drinking at parties or family outings, and be aware of where you keep your alcohol.
  • Monitor the alcohol you have in your house, dispose of unused medications, and make it clear that alcohol and drugs are off-limits in your house or their friends’ houses.

Talk “early and often” with your children about drugs and alcohol, and also remember, “What you do is just as important as what you say.” Our children inherit our drinking and drug use behaviors and attitudes – good or bad. We’ve got to drop our mixed messages and be very clear that illegal drug use will not be tolerated. With epidemic levels of heroin, prescription and other drug overdoses sweeping this country, there’s too much at stake. We have to have open, frequent talks with our kids about the consequences of one-time use and drug dependency to their physical and emotional health, friendships, school and future goals.

As youth enter adolescence, families can establish agreements to abide by laws about alcohol and drugs, drive only when alcohol and drug free, and only be a passenger with drivers who are alcohol and drug free. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests the following language as a starting point for agreements:

  • As your mom/dad/caregiver, I pledge to do my part in helping to keep you alcohol and drug free. I promise to talk with you about the dangers and harmful effects of underage drinking and drug use. I pledge to create an alcohol and drug-free environment that is fun and safe for you and your friends. I also pledge to pick you up at any time or place if you find yourself in any uncomfortable situation where underage drinking or drug use is involved. By signing this pledge, I agree that I will engage in constructive conversations with you about the dangers of underage drinking and drug use.
  • As your son/daughter, I understand that alcohol and drugs can harm my body and my mind and make me say and do things I might regret. I pledge to avoid situations where my friends and peers are drinking underage or using drugs, and I promise to call or text you to help remove me from those situations, if they arise. By signing this pledge, I agree that I will not engage in underage drinking or drug use.

SAMHSA Family Agreement Form: Avoiding Alcohol

In addition, the Virginia Department of Education’s 45 Hour Parent-Teen Driving Guide is the definitive guidebook in Virginia for equipping parents to teach their children to be thoughtful and safe drivers; a parent-teen contract is included on page 43. Another helpful tool is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Parent-Teen Driving Agreement.

Have Conversations With Your Teen About Impaired Driving

parent bookletModeling positive drinking and driving behaviors and engaging in dialogue with teens about alcohol is essential to afford them the knowledge, resources and skills to make good decisions. MADD offers a free Power of Parents Handbook and a free online video workshop for parents. The handbook provides extensive information and suggestions to help you have positive parenting conversations with youth about alcohol use and set clear expectations and consequences consistent with your family values and the law. In Fall 2015, the Virginia Department of Education in partnership with Virginia ABC and MADD disseminated the Underage Drinking Prevention educational brochure to parents of seniors.

SAMHSA also offers a "Talk. They Hear You." App for Computers, Tablets, and Mobile Phones to assist parents in having conversations about alcohol and drugs with children who are as young as nine years of age. Parents can also introduce their teens to The Young Teen's Place for Info on Alcohol and Resisting Peer Pressure, a government website developed for young teens.

In 2018, 20.5 million people aged 16 or older drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year and 12.6 million drove under the influence of illicit drugs (NIDA Drug Facts). Teach your teen about the risks of driving after the use of illegal or prescription drugs. Teach them to read labels of over-the-counter medications and be alert for warning of drowsiness or impairment while operating a vehicle. NIDA, as part of the National Institutes of Health, offers an extensive collection of publications, education materials, and videos to help parents talk to their children about drug use. Free resources include:

The following twitter accounts also offer useful tips to help you talk with your teens: 

Good Parenting Matters - Talk with Your Teens

  • Teens are five times less likely to drink if they have a parent who delivers a clear and consistent message that under-aged drinking is totally unacceptable.
  • It is a crime for parents to host underage drinking parties.
  • Studies have shown that adult supervised settings for alcohol use, intended to minimize harm, actually result in higher levels of harmful alcohol consequences for young people!
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Be an adult role model.
  • Drinking and driving is illegal for anyone.
  • Protect your children.
  • Teen drinking harms the developing brain.
  • Teen drinking increases the risk for injury, pregnancy, sexual assault, and academic failure.

Hot Topics

SAMHSA Site Helps You Answer Your Child's Tough Questions About Alcohol

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it’s a good idea for parents and caregivers to talk to kids about alcohol early while they are still in elementary school – experts recommend 9 years of age to start – and often into adulthood. Most young people ages 10-18 acknowledge that their parents are the leading influence on their decision to drink or not drink, so the conversations do matter. Every talk, however, doesn’t have to be long and intense. You want to have regular, small talks with your children so they know you disapprove of underage drinking and drug use, and that you are going to be watching them and monitoring their behavior because you care about their wellbeing. These talks are opportunities to practice the scenarios that are bound to come up, and to equip your children with skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking and getting involved with drugs. These talks can occur anywhere – e.g., when you are unloading the car, doing chores, having dinner, driving them, watching TV. Being supportive and interested in what they are doing, getting to know their friends, and keeping the lines of communication open, will make it more likely that they will turn to you for advice as they navigate the bumpy transition through a whole set of adolescence risks.

You are not alone apos you grapple with some questions about alcohol and drugs that can be hard to answer. Fortunately there are a lot of reputable resources to help you prepare. In fact, SAMHSA has an app for that! To help you practice your responses to a variety of scenarios, try out the Talk, They Hear You App (available for download at your App Store) as well as the Partnership for Drug Free Kids’ Parent Talk Kit. MADD also offers free parent pocket guides, handbooks, and virtual workshops. Also, posted below, from the SAMHSA website, are some frequently asked questions and suggested strategies for answering them.

“I got invited to a party. Can I go?”

Ask your child if an adult will be present at the party or if he or she thinks children will be drinking. Remind your child that even being at a party where there is underage drinking can get him or her into trouble. Use this time to establish or reinforce your rules about alcohol and outline the behavior you expect.

“Did you drink when you were a kid?”

Don’t let your past stop you from talking to your child about underage drinking. If you drank as a teenager, be honest. Acknowledge that it was risky. Make sure to emphasize that we now know even more about the risks to children who drink underage -including damage to the developing brain and the legal, financial, and academic consequences. You could even give your child an example of a painful moment that occurred because of your underage drinking.

Why do you drink?”

Make a distinction between alcohol use among children and among adults. Explain to your child your reasons for drinking: whether it is to enhance a meal, share good times with friends, or celebrate a special occasion. Point out that if you choose to drink, it is always in moderation. Tell your child that some people should not drink at all, including underage children.

“What if my friends ask me to drink?”

Helping your child say “no” to peer pressure is one of the most important things you can do to keep him or her alcohol-free. Work with your child to think of a way to handle this situation, whether it is simply saying, “No, I don’t drink,” or saying, “I promised my mom (or dad) that I wouldn’t drink.”

“You drink alcohol, so why can’t I?”

Remind your child that underage drinking is against the law, and for good reason. Point out that adults are fully developed mentally and physically so they can handle drinking. Children’s minds and bodies, however, are still growing, so alcohol can have a greater effect on their judgment and health.

“Why is alcohol bad for me?”

Don’t try to scare your child about drinking or tell him or her, “You can’t handle it.”  Instead, tell your child that alcohol can be bad for his or her growing brain, interferes with judgment, and can make him or her sick. Once children hear the facts and your opinions about them, it is easier for you to make rules and enforce them.

Drug and Alcohol Conversations: What to Say and How to Say It?

Below are two of the realistic scenarios and suggestions provided in the Medicine Abuse Project’s Parent Talk Kit. The Medicine Abuse Project, an initiative of Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, provides every day examples of ways to bring up the topic of drugs and alcohol and offers age by age scripts to help you start and keep conversations going whether your child is in preschool, grade school, middle school, high school or post-high-school/college.

Scenario 1: Over the Counter Cough Medicine Binge
The Situation:

While putting away your son’s laundry, you notice five bottles of over-the-counter cough medicine in his dresser. When you confront him, he admits that he drinks cough syrup in excess to get high alone in his room. He tells you that he has friends buy the bottles for him on different days of the week so that he can bypass pharmaceutical regulations. While you cannot fathom why he abuses over-the-counter cough medicine of all things, he explains that it is not only cheap, but also gives an “indescribable” high and places him in a new world where “everything is altered.”

What to Say:

Try to acknowledge and appreciate his honesty before losing your cool. Ask questions and try to understand why your son wants to get high; perhaps the reason isn’t as nonchalant as he makes it sound. After hearing him out, explain that just because a cough medicine is sold over-the-counter does not mean it’s safe to consume in excess – abuse of over-the-counter cough medication can be just as dangerous as abusing prescription medicine and street drugs. Abusing over-the-counter cough medicine can cause dizziness, double or blurred vision, slurred speech, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, and even a coma or death when consumed.

Please seek professional help for your son.

Scenario #2: Being Challenged on Your Own Rx Use
The Situation:

You discover that your daughter has been taking a depressant not prescribed to her. When you ask her about it she says it’s because she works herself into a breathtaking frenzy whenever she is stressed and it helps her relax. She says she is getting the pills from the family medicine cabinet. When you ask her why she took pills without a prescription, she calls you a hypocrite because you occasionally take a pill or two from an old prescription to “calm your nerves.”

What to Say:

Whenever a child confronts her parent about his/her own drug or prescription medicine use, the conversation can quickly grow awkward and tense, with the parent stammering, making excuses or getting defensive. While you don’t have to tell your child every detail, be open with her. Admit that you have misused prescription medicine that it was wrong and you regret it. And let her know that you don’t want her making the same mistakes. It’s important to emphasize that this is about her, not about you. Try to understand why she felt she needed the prescription medicine and how you can help her manage her stress in a healthier way. [Examples: exercise, relaxation techniques, breaking a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks, taking breaks from stressful situations, listening to music or reaching out to a friend.]

If she pushes the hypocrisy point, cite a bit of science. Scientists believe that it takes about 25 years for the brain to fully develop. Explain that her brain is vulnerable to unhealthy influences like the abuse of Rx drug and OTC cough medicine, street drugs and alcohol. If your daughter is feeling anxious and overly stressed, a consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or qualified mental health professional may be helpful. There are many techniques such as relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skills training that have been proven to help people feel better.

“Did You Ever Do Drugs?”

How do you answer that question from your teen? To help you out, the Medicine Abuse Project, a program of Partnership for Drug-Free Kids provides a Parent Talk Kit which includes the following information:

For many parents, a child’s “Did you ever use drugs?” question is a tough one to answer. Unless the answer is no, most parents stutter and stammer through a response and leave their kids feeling like they haven’t learned anything – or, even worse, that their parents are hypocrites.

Yes, it’s difficult to know what to say. You want your kids to follow your rules and you don’t want them to hold your history up as an example to follow – or as a tool to use against you. But the conversation doesn’t have to be awkward, and you can use it to your advantage by turning it into a teachable moment.

Some parents who’ve used drugs in the past choose to lie about it – but they risk losing their credibility if their kids ever discover the truth. Many experts recommend that you give an honest answer — but you don’t have to tell your kids every detail. As with conversations about sex, some details should remain private.

Avoid giving your child more information than she asked for. And ask her a lot of questions to make sure you understand exactly why she’s asking about your drug history. Limit your response to that exchange of information. The discussion provides a great opportunity to speak openly about what tempted you to do drugs, why drugs are dangerous, and why you want your kids to avoid making the same mistakes you made.

The following are good examples of the tone you can take and wording you can use:

“I took drugs because some of my friends used them, and I thought I needed to do the same in order to fit in. In those days, people didn’t know as much as they do now about all the bad things that can happen when you take drugs.”

“Everyone makes mistakes and trying drugs was one of my biggest mistakes ever. I’ll do anything to help you avoid making the same stupid decision that I made when I was your age.”

“I started drinking when I was young and, as you can see, it’s been a battle ever since. Because of my drinking, I missed a big part of growing up, and every day I have to fight with myself so it doesn’t make me miss out on even more – my job, my relationships, and most importantly, my time with you. I love you too much to watch you make the same mistakes I’ve made.”

Teen Drinking is Costly to Teens, Families, and Communities

Parents Who Host, Lose the Most

Between June and September 2015, VAHPERD coordinated a Parents Who Host Lose the Most billboard and radio messaging campaign throughout Virginia to discourage parents from hosting underage drinking parties. VAHPERD wants to encourage clear messaging and expectations for youth to not engage in illegal underage drinking or impaired driving. The logo for the campaign was developed by the Ohio Drug Free Action Alliance, and graphic design and media placement were provided by Virginia Broadcast Solutions, Inc.

We encourage you to also access the evidence-based resources on the Drug Free Action Alliance website for further use in your communities.


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