Your Teens World


Mothers Against Drunk Driving®

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How to use this guide

Underage drinking poses a special risk to young people. It’s illegal and dangerous. This topical guide urges parents to: • Use strategies recommended to talk with your child about alcohol, even if it does not seem like they are interested in alcohol. Talk early, and talk often.

Set a family rule of no alcohol use before age 21. Agree on consequences for breaking the no-use rule; enforce “zero tolerance.”


What’s Inside

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A MESSAGE TO PARENTS FROM DR. TURRISI AND MADD Research shows that kids who drink are a danger to themselves, their friends, and others. For over 20 years, hundreds of high quality clinical studies in the United States and Europe have shown that the earlier in life kids drink, the more severe the problems they face in the short and long term. Science shows that a child’s brain works differently from an adult’s brain. It is important to realize that no matter how mature kids act they are not simply smaller versions of adults. Kids’ brains are still in a critical period of development well into their 20’s. Alcohol interferes with how brains and bodies grow. As a parent, you have power to equip your child to make smarter, safer choices and to help prevent tragedies. This topical guide will help you understand your child’s world and way of thinking, especially in relation to alcohol. We urge you to read MADD’s full parent handbooks, found at powerofparents, for more information on how to talk with your middle or high school-aged child to help shape the choices they make regarding alcohol. These conversations will have an impact on their physical and emotional development and could be lifesaving.

This is the first in a series of five topical guides. Download MADD’s full parent handbook at


A Message to Parents

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As you are aware, many changes are going on with your child RIGHT NOW. Some of the most important changes are taking place in their brains, and these changes will continue well into the 20’s. These changes affect: • How they think. • How their bodies grow. • How they act. • How they think about alcohol. The good news is there are changes we can see to let us know their brains are developing.

Whats Going On ,

The best news is that YOU can have a big impact on the changes that take place under the skin that we cannot see as well as the thoughtful actions we can see. How you communicate with your child influences their brain development and by doing so, influences how they think, how their bodies grow, and how they act. Your child may experience some or all of these: • Feeling socially awkward about their bodies • Struggling with who to become friends with and how to fit in • Feeling a little stressed about responsibilities and demands at school and around the house • Wanting more privacy


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GAINING INDEPENDENCE As your children grow, they will experience the need for freedom and responsibility, but they still need adult guidance to help them make age appropriate choices. MIDDLE SCHOOLERS When kids reach middle school, it is normal for them to seek more freedoms. They want to feel in control and capable of handling any situation- even when that is just not possible. Kids need to learn that with all new freedoms come responsibilities and that this is a gradual process. As a parent or caregiver, you can communicate and model behavior in a manner that aids this process. HIGH SCHOOLERS High schoolers are taking on more responsibilities and more adult roles, even though they are still young and their brains are still far from being fully developed. As a result, the things we can see are, one moment they feel like an adult and the next they want to be cared for like a child. Teens sense that they are becoming more like adults and want to compete in the same world. At times they feel embarrassed by their parents. This is natural, but even though they may act capable and ready to take on the world, they still need and are watching their parents’ examples as they make decisions around important topics like alcohol.


Gaining Independence

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HOW YOUR CHILD THINKS Because their brains are not fully developed, your is child is most likely to make choices based on immediate feelings. As a result, they are willing to do things they never planned or intended to do. Sometimes this results in risky behavior, such as drinking alcohol or using other drugs. As they mature into their 20s, this will change. Their choices and actions will be based more on thinking and less on feelings. This is a big part of why teens shouldn’t drink alcohol until they are 21 or older.

Whats Going On ,

Adults may hold beliefs and have thoughts that younger individuals are simply incapable of having due to their age. The part of the brain that controls what are considered to be “executive functions” (for example being less emotional and more reasoned, using judgment, planning, and critical thinking) is at a critical stage during this time and is not completely developed until their early to mid 20s. You can help your child develop better critical thinking skills by talking together about the consequences of alcohol use, even if he or she shows little interest.


How Your Child Thinks

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SELF-ESTEEM Your child is working to figure out where they “fit in”. They need close friends with whom they can share their own beliefs and preferences. They tend to try to work out their problems with peers who they perceive as having a similar level of power instead of coming to a more authoritative individual, like a parent or teacher. A strong sense of self-esteem boosts problem solving and social adjustment.

If possible, do not punish your child in public. This leads to humiliation and lowers self-esteem.

How can you help?

• Don’t force advice. • Give choices. Allow your child the opportunity to decide for themselves when possible. • Give praise. Make sure your child knows you are proud of their good decisions. Don’t just assume they already know. • Give responsibilities. Talk to your child about “the plan.” It could be “the plan” for how to attack a difficult situation, or “the plan” for taking care of chores around the house while still having time for any extracurricular activities. When handled properly, both negative and positive experiences can help build self-esteem.

Visit to take our online quiz to find out more about your parenting style.



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GOING ALONG WITH THE GROUP Your child will include “others” in their moral reasoning … even if their perception of what their peers are doing is wrong. Research shows that teens and younger adults tend to overestimate how many of their peers drink alcohol, and the more they overestimate, the more likely they are to drink. Your son or daughter may justify decisions by saying, “everyone drinks at my school.” You do not want to argue, but it might help to offer an alternative perception, “Reputable teen studies show that less than 36% of seniors drink alcohol. This means that most of the kids at school are probably not drinking as much as most kids think.” Youth often believe that they should be excused for misbehavior if it was unplanned or if they are one of many. They may say, “We didn’t mean to drink; things just happened; kids make mistakes.” This is where you as a parent can play a big role, by communicating with them about what the family rules are and working with them to form plans if these situations arise. Risky Business

Because adolescents’ brains are still developing, adolescents take more risks with alcohol. They act impulsively and don’t recognize as an adult would, that their actions (drinking) have consequences. Alcohol is especially attractive to young people because it reduces social anxiety and inhibitions. These same characteristics also make them much more vulnerable to taking risks, like getting into a car with someone who has been drinking.


Going Along With the Group

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Youth may hear that drinking is risky or even know the potential risks, but their own experience has greater impact on their choices. They may think, “My parents drink and nothing bad has ever happened”, or “My friends drink and nothing bad ever happens.” Teens tend to believe that negative things will never happen to them, only other people. There are a number of factors that go into your child’s decision to try alcohol. Do not assume that facts or statistics alone will convince your child to avoid alcohol. Your role is to help them use information to start developing rational thinking skills.

To read more about facts and stats, download MADD’s parent handbook at powerofparents

It is important to have clear family rules about what to do if your teen is at someone’s home, adults are not supervising, and alcohol becomes present. Results from many studies indicate kids drink more often and heavier when alcohol is made available to them. The best practice is to have your son or daughter understand they should leave or call/text a trusted adult for a ride if this happens.


When it Comes to Alcohol

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LET’S TALK ABOUT IT! When talking with your child about alcohol, don’t lecture them. Ask about their thoughts/ opinions on the topic. Use questions that start with how, what, and why. You might ask “How would you handle an invitation to a party with alcohol? What would you say? Why do you think drinking is dangerous at your age?” Help them practice thinking through the pros and cons of different alternatives. Do things as a family. Positive, shared family activities help protect kids against risky peer influences. Again, use the how, what, and why questions. For example, kids like looking at pictures of parents and siblings when they were young. Viewing family photos together can strengthen relationships and show how everyone goes through similar changes. These informal conversations also help keep the lines of communication open. By talking with kids often, the transition is easier when you need to discuss more difficult topics. Conversation Starters Ask how, what, and why questions to get conversations started and help your child’s brain develop. For example, you might try…”It is important that we have these conversations and things are differ- ent now versus when I was young: 1) What might you do if someone offers you a drink with alcohol? 2) How might you say no without looking bad? 3) Why do you think some kids think it is okay to drink when they are young?


Let’s Talk About It!

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BOTTOM LINE Adults may hold beliefs and have thoughts that simply do not exist for youth because their brains are still developing. Help your child develop better thinking skills by talking together about the short-term and long-term consequences of alcohol use, even if he or she shows little interest. It is never too soon. Remember, your child may be beginning to look and act like an adult, but they are still depending on you to help them make good and healthy choices. Their brain is focused on what is happening right now, basing decisions on immediate emotions rather than what consequences may happen in the future.

They are listening…what are you saying?

Download MADD’s parent handbook at powerofparents for more tips and strategies for having critical conversations with your child around alcohol and other drugs.


Bottom Line

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This series of resources can help parents substantially reduce the chance that their child will drink before the age of 21. Alcohol is the drug most commonly used by youth—more than all other illicit drugs combined. MADD’s Power of Parents handbooks are based on the latest research by Robert Turrisi, PhD at Penn State University, which when followed have shown up to a 30% reduction in underage drinking. The research- based principles and materials are not only useful to help parents have the critical discussions about alcohol with their children— from middle school through high school—but can also be applied when having discussions about all other drugs. By talking to children early and often, parents can prevent dangerous and deadly consequences from alcohol and other drugs. These intentional, ongoing and life-changing conversations will help keep youth, families and entire communities healthy and safe. Together we can create a future of No More Victims®.





MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING 511 E. John Carpenter Frwy, Suite 700 Irving, TX 75062

877.ASK.MADD 877.MADD.HELP 24-Hour Victim Help Line


© 2017 Mothers Against Drunk Driving

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