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Information for Parents: Talking to Teens About Substance Use

Preparing to Talk About Teen Drinking


Talking to your teen about alcohol can be hard. Before you talk to your son or daughter, take some time to prepare. How would you answer these questions?

  • Is it okay if my teen drinks before they are 18 years old?
  • Will I buy alcohol for my son or daughter?
  • Will I let my teen try sips of alcohol once in a while?

Start with the big picture. You are initiating the conversation out of love and concern for your teen.

How can I keep my teen safe if he or she is drinking alcohol?

Encourage teens to wait as long as they can before starting to drink alcohol. It’s the best thing you can do to keep them safe. Research shows that drinking alcohol can affect the risks teens take and how their brains develop.

If teens are already drinking alcohol, there are fewer risks when they are:

  • in a safe place
  • with a parent
  • only drinking small amounts of alcohol (e.g., 1 or 2 standard drinks, only once or twice a week)

Being a role model

You are your child’s strongest and most important role model. Your teen watches how you deal with problems, show your feelings, and celebrate. Make sure to think about what your choices around using alcohol may mean to your son or daughter.

How do I set rules and boundaries for my teen?

Setting consistent rules and boundaries can help your teen make healthy, safe decisions about drinking. Answering these questions gives you a chance to think about your rules, values, and habits around alcohol:

  • Would you let your teen have a glass of wine at a special family dinner?
  • Would you buy alcohol for your teen?
  • Is it okay for your teen to use alcohol to help them deal with a hard situation? Is it okay for your teen to drink just for fun? Is there a difference? Why or why not?
  • Would you let your teen have a party and serve alcohol to other teens at your house? Do you know the legal risk if you let this happen? Can you be in control of what happens at a party like this?
  • Would you let your teen go to a party if you knew alcohol was being served?
  • If your teen is drinking alcohol, do you need have special rules to keep them safe (e.g., changing their curfew)?
  • How do you and other important adults in your teen’s life use alcohol? How often is alcohol part of your life and in your home?

One of the most important things you can do is to talk openly to your teen about what you expect. Consider your own drinking and how it may influence your teen’s decisions. Be caring consistent, set clear limits, and understand that it can be hard for teens to make safe choices about using alcohol. ​Keep the lines of communication open.

What does the law say about teen drinking?

In Alberta, it’s against the law for people under 18 years old to have, drink, or buy alcohol. It’s also illegal to sell or give alcohol to anyone who you know is under 18, or even looks like they might be under 18 (unless the person has proof they are older). Parents or guardians can give their own child a drink at home, but it’s against the law for other adults, including family members and older brothers or sisters, to give alcohol to anyone under 18.

The Alberta laws about drinking and teens are in the Gaming and Liquor Act.

Current as of: January 3, 2017

Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services