Talking to My Kid About Alcohol

April is Alcohol Responsibility Month. And as a parent, making our children aware of alcohol and responsible drinking should happen early, appropriately and repeatedly.

But first let me drop a bit of awareness on you

Talking to My Kid About Alcohol

In 1991, 80% of American teens had consumed alcohol at least once. By 2020, that number had dropped to 44%. Some credit this decrease, in part, to an increase in parents talking to their children openly and honestly about alcohol.

This past year I’ve had the pleasure of working with Responsibility.org, whose mission is to facilitate these lifelong conversations between parents and kids. I’ve learned a ton from my interactions with the organization and strive to impart some of that knowledge to my readers… and of course, to my son.

So, in honor of Alcohol Responsibility Month, I thought I’d do just that — have a conversation with my 11-year-old about alcohol.

As I was coming up with questions, I realized I hadn’t had much in the way of father-son chats about alcohol. I knew he’d seen me and his Papa drink — and probably more often during quarantine. But what did he really know? What had he actually observed? How worried should I be?

Below is our enlightening (and entertaining) discussion.

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Dad: What words come to mind when you think about alcohol?
Son: Being drunk and stuff like that.
Anything else?
That’s it, in my mind.
Anything positive, or only negative?
Only negative.
Why is that?
It’s because alcohol is basically like drugs, sometimes it’s bad and sometimes it’s good. But you only hear bad things about it.


Can you name any kinds of alcohol?
Wine, beer, vodka, a bunch of others.
What are mine and Papa’s favorite alcoholic drinks?
Yeah, that’s Papa’s favorite — bourbon. How about mine?
I don’t know, maybe martini? Or margarita?
Right! Both. (beams with pride)

What do you think or feel about Papa and I drinking?
I don’t care if you drink. I’m fine with that because you’re an adult.
Do you think Papa or I drink too much?
No, not at all. You drink like, barely any. (HA!) I barely even know you drink in the first place.
Have you ever seen us drunk?
No, I’ve never seen you drunk. Have you ever been drunk?!?
(Treads carefully) Mm-hmm, yeah. Sometimes it’s just a little bit, like it affects you if you haven’t had enough to eat, or sometimes if you’re really tired it affects you more.


Do you think you’ll ever drink alcohol?
Probably like… I’ll just get the taste when I’m allowed to drink. And then when I’m 30 or 40 I’ll start drinking a tiny bit. (Ah, to have a youngster’s concept of time!)
Have you ever been curious to try a sip?
Sometimes, but I heard it tastes bad, so… (One advantage to having a picky eater, I guess)


Do you know how old you have to be to drink?
21 (Ding, Ding!)
What do you think about underage drinking?
That they should not do that, that they could die and stuff like that.
How could they die?
They get in a car, they drive. They’re just too drunk and then…
That happens to adults, too.
(He nods, knowingly)

Why do you think it’s a bad idea for kids to drink?
Because they can feel terrible. And it hurts them, and it hurts their body.
How does it hurt their body?
The affects go into your stomach and it just… it can affect growth and stuff like that.

Have you ever heard that it also affects your ability to make decisions?
Yeah, basically being drunk you’re like, you can’t choose that well.
Right… some people get silly, some get angry, some get sleepy… but what it does is takes away that extra level of control you have, so sometimes you’ll think, “Oh, I can eat a whole pizza by myself!” or “Hey, I can get in the car and drive!” or “I can jump off the roof and not get hurt!”
(Laughs, probably at the thought of me jumping off of anything.) Yeah, you can either die or feel terrible the next morning.
Or hurt someone else.

How do you think kids get alcohol?
(Answers a little too quickly) Fake IDs.
Any other ways?
Getting it from the fridge, from their parents.
Do you and your friends ever talk about alcohol or drinking?
No, we don’t at all. We sometimes mention being drunk as a joke, but that’s it.


How have you seen drinking portrayed in video games, TV, movies and social media?
Some are good, like social media is like, “I feel great now.” But on some video games, it feels like the camera is all wonky, and your controls are inverted.
You mean your player is drunk?
Yeah, it portrays it as bad.
Have you ever seen anything on YouTube or Tik-Tok, people that are drunk, joking about drinking?
No. (Relieved, but a bit shocked)

Can you think of any TV shows or movies where it portrayed drinking as positive?
Not really.
What would you think would be a positive way to portray drinking?
Like, if somebody is really drunk and then do some great stuff and win in the end.
Hmm, interesting. (Yikes!) To me, positive doesn’t mean like superheroes, it’s more like…
I know, but it’s like you’re stronger and you can actually do this.
Oh, I see… (I don’t, actually) but that would be like a superhero thing, not realistic.
Yeah, but if he gets a little bit stronger so he can finally do it, so.

I followed up later for some clarification. He didn’t mean superhero — he meant like someone having too much to drink, sobering up, and then succeeding at something. Pro tip: it never hurts to ask follow-up questions!

How about like in everyday life? Like me and Papa — how do you think real adults use alcohol in a positive way?
Just drink a little bit, not too much. Put it away after a while, drink like once a week… once a month. (Again, with this childlike sense of time!)
Just have it with friends or dinner?


Have you ever thought about what you’d do if a friend or classmate offered you a drink?
I would be like, “Heck no! I’m not drinking that…” And I would call the cops or something like that. (My kid, the narc!)

Do you feel like you can talk to Papa and me about things like drinking, sex, drugs, bullying, and other subjects that are difficult or scary sometimes?
Yeah, I feel totally fine with that.
Is there anything you don’t feel comfortable talking about with us?
No! You’re my parents. I feel comfortable talking to you about anything. (I’m sure parents of teens are thinking, “Ask again in a couple of years…”)


Is there anything you’d like to ask me? About alcohol and drinking in general, or about my own experiences with alcohol as an adult or growing up?
Nothing? First time I had a drink? (Should I be bringing this up?)
No, it’s fine.
How old do you think I was? (Why do I keep going?!)
Don’t know. About 21? 22? Around that age?
What?! How old were you?
16 (softly)
OMG (softly)


An organization I work with did a study about underage drinking. They found that over the last 30 or so years, the percentage of underage drinking has gone down a lot.
It has?! I thought it would go up.
Me too! But they credit this to the fact parents are more open with their kids talking about alcohol. I know when I grew up, Grandma and Grandpa didn’t drink, and my grandparents didn’t drink, and it was always like, “Oh, it’s bad. It’s a bad thing.” I knew it was bad for kids, but I never knew anything else about it. And sometimes I think that if my parents had drunk wine or beer or whatever at home, I wouldn’t have been so curious about it.
Because back then, a lot of teens drank at parties and stuff.
Some still do now, but it’s gone down from then. I think underage smoking has gone up, from the creation of the vape.
Probably. I’d have to look into that. (I did.)


Was there anything about our conversation that made you uncomfortable?
No, nothing at all.
Was there anything you learned?
Yeah, like underage drinking has gone in the last few years.
I liked the fact that you knew drinking affects your body, especially kids. Because you’re not fully developed yet, and so alcohol can affect your brain, it can affect your body.
It has much more severe effects.
That’s right.

Thanks for talking with me, buddy.
You’re welcome.

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As I was thinking about our conversation later, I realized it was much more than me educating my son about alcohol. It was us spending quality time together. While the questions may have been scripted, the connection was genuine.

Even (or perhaps especially) during quarantine, it can be difficult to find the time and energy to have real discussion with our kids. I feel like most of the time I’m talking at him, not with him. Reminding him to put away his dishes, asking if he’s done his reading, checking to make sure he’s back in his Zoom class… All that is necessary parenting stuff, but it goes nowhere towards bonding and establishing trust with your child.

While I shouldn’t have to use a blog post as an excuse to have a conversation with my child, it sure was fun! Don’t be surprised if you see another such chat in the not too distant future.

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Responsibility.org is all about healthy conversations between parents and kids, especially when it comes to responsible alcohol choices. Check out their site for valuable info for parents and non-parents alike. Important fact: parents are the leading influence on a child’s decision to drink (or not drink). When conversations about alcohol between parents and kids increase, underage drinking decreases.

As a brand ambassador for Responsibility.org, I am being compensated to write this post. However, all opinions are my own (and my son’s).

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