Loved one talking to a young adult

Talk Early and Often

Resources for discussing substance use from pre-school to college.


As with all things with kids, one size does not fit all, this is especially true when talking with them about alcohol, your concerns and expeditions. What you say to a 9-year-old about alcohol, drugs and gambling is different from what you say to a 15-year-old.

A clear no-use message is the most effective way for parents to help keep their kids safe from the many dangers associated with underage alcohol use. Children also can't learn all they need to know from a single discussion- lots of little talks are more effective than one "big talk."


By Preschool, most children have seen adults drinking alcohol or using drugs, either in real life, on TV, in the news or online.  The attitudes they form at this age have an important impact on the decisions they will make when they are older. Preschool age children are eager to know and memorize rules, and they want your opinion on what’s bad and what’s good.

Age 5-8

Children this age have an increasing interest in the world outside the family and home. Your child may see someone who is drunk in public or depicted as drunk on TV. Now is the best time to begin to explain what alcohol and medicine are.

Let them know that some people drink even though it can be harmful, and explain the consequences involved. And explain that sometimes people need prescription drugs when they're sick but they can be dangerous when you aren't sick and a doctor doesn't know you're taking them.


Age 10-12

When it comes to discussing alcohol and drugs, this is one of the most important times in their life. During the tween and preteen years, kids will assert their independence and question authority. They need your input and advice more than ever. At this point, tweens understand the reason for rules and appreciate having limits in place. Be sure they know your rules about drugs and alcohol and the consequences they face if they break these rules.

Base alcohol-related messages on facts -- not fear. Tweens love to learn facts about all kinds of things. You can take advantage of their passion for learning to reinforce your message about alcohol and drugs.

Talk about real-life situations they may face and brainstorm solutions together for what they can say. For instance: "My mom (or dad) would kill me if I drank alcohol”. Be sure your tween knows that they should not continue friendships with kids who have offered them alcohol or other drugs.

Remember, this is a tough time for your tweens. Puberty can take a toll on a child's self-confidence and cause them to feel insecure, doubtful, and more vulnerable to peer pressure. During these years, give your tween lots of positive reinforcement and praise them for their efforts and successes.

Ages 13-18

Your teen will most likely know other kids who use alcohol or drugs. Most teens are still willing to express their thoughts or concerns with parents about it. Use these conversations not only to understand your teen’s thoughts and feelings, but also to talk about the dangers of alcohol such as violence, sex and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Talk about the legal issues and the possibility that they or someone else might be killed or seriously injured. Make it clear that drinking is not permitted under any circumstances and let your teen know that you trust them not to drink alcohol.

Teenagers tend to be idealistic and want to help make the world a better place. Tell your teens that underage drinking is not a victim-less crime, and the effect it has on our society.

Help your child build self-reliance by asking them how they plan to deal with situations such as being offered alcohol or being invited to ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.

Wait up for your teen's curfew. When they return from being out with friends so you can chat about what happened. Strive to convey love and concern not mistrust.

The first time you have evidence that your teen has been drinking, don’t minimize it. Confront them from a place of love and concern, not fear or punishment.

Age 18+

College-age students will encounter drinking and drug-use on- and off campus. Find out about a college’s record of drinking-related incidents and its alcohol policy before your child enrolls. Talk about your findings with your child. Remind young adults that 21 is the legal age to drink, and about the dangers of binge drinking or drug use, including alcohol poisoning, overdose, and death.

Stay connected with young adults to learn how best to support them.