#AskAlyson: How can I help my kid say no to alcohol?

Teenagers should know that opting out of drinking is not 'social death.'

Alyson Schafer 4 minute read August 10, 2021
teenage drinking

Canadian parents should know that the majority of minors don’t underage drink. Getty

Dear Alyson,

My daughter is 16 and very responsible, but also struggles to have friends. However, I have recently found out that her friends and some boys from a neighbouring school are meeting in the park at night and drinking. I asked her about it and she denied it, and said that even if her friends were drinking, she wouldn’t participate. I am wracked with doubt as to how to counsel her. On the one hand, I don’t want her to be a social outcast — you know, “the girl who follows the rules.” But I also don’t want her to drink and perhaps do something she will regret. (Her friend recently had sex that she regretted after drinking) Is this my opportunity to talk to her about strategies to look “cool” without partaking (like filling a cup and just walking around with it)?

Signed, Want To Do The Right Thing

Dear What to Do The Right Thing,

I am so happy you asked me about this, as so many parents are struggling with this exact issue. After the lockdown, parents are really wanting to help their teens re-connect with friends because we know it’s important for their mental health. At the same time, we don’t want our teens to feel peer pressure to engage in unhealthy behaviour, like underage drinking.

Here is the good news: Canadian parents should know that the majority of minors don’t underage drink. There are lots of peers they can connect with that are not imbibing. If she doesn’t like the vibe of this park group, maybe she could seek out another group that shares her values.

The other good news is that youth today are more tolerant of embracing differences, so saying, “I am good, but you go ahead,” is not social death.

My advice is to let your daughter know that you are really happy that she is getting out and making friends, and get her thinking about what good friend groups look like. For example, good friends never pressure someone to be something they are not, or do something they don’t want to do. Let her know she is a worthy friend, as she is, without changing one iota. She just needs to find her people.

If she wants to continue with this group, let her know your own personal values are to be law abiding and not underage drink, and that you trust her to manage in a world that will present opportunities for her to drink.

But while you believe in her, she also needs help with actual skills and strategies to help navigate complex situations. These include things like, bringing your own drinking cup so no one knows it’s non-alcoholic. Or, together, come up with a few good lines that allow her to say no to alcohol and save face, such as, “I am on medication that you can’t take with alcohol” or “I would love to – but I have a doctors appointment in the morning and they are taking blood so I gotta be in good form” or “I overdid it yesterday, and can’t do it again tonight.” There are many more, so brainstorm together until she finds a few she likes.

It’s also important to help her with an exit strategy. Have a text word if she wants to get picked up and get out of there, and let her know that you are always there for her — no judgement.

Of utmost importance is that you as her parent don’t believe or support the mistaken notion that she has to drink to be accepted or to have a good time. It’s simply not true.

And by the way,  do you know the number one reason minors don’t drink at parties? Because they don’t want to disappoint their parents. Let her know you love her and that she is good enough as she is, and doesn’t need to drink and break the law to have friends. That expectation will help build her fortitude to say no or find another friend group.

If you want more information on preventing underage drinking – follow Alyson’s hashtag #FamilyTalk or check out her videos on YouTube.