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Setting a good example for your teens

Last updated: July 2024

The things you do and the way you act influence your teen’s choices and behaviours. When it comes to using alcohol, modelling lower-risk drinking habits and healthy attitudes inside the home can protect them from making unhealthy choices as they grow into young adults.

One thing you may worry about is that your teenager will pick up bad habits from their peers. But studies show that parents are by far the biggest influence on their kids’ choices and behaviours.

From the time they’re born, children learn how to live in the world by observing and imitating those around them. As they grow into teenagers, they are influenced more and more by people and things outside of home.

Your attitudes are still important influences when it comes to many things, including drinking alcohol or using other drugs. They learn to process observations, make choices about what to imitate and when to engage in certain behaviours, like drinking.

How to help teens make good decisions

Help teens think through the reasons they might choose to follow an example, or not. They will eventually make their own decisions. Helping them learn how to make good decisions may protect them from picking up too many bad habits.

Some ways to help your teen learn about good decision-making processes:

  • Ask them to talk through how they came to a decision
  • Ask probing questions while being careful not to be accusing or lecturing. For example, "What did you think when they offered you a beer?"
  • Get them to prioritize when they’re facing overwhelming options
  • Walk through real-life situations where they would have to make a decision. Then talk about the outcomes of each scenario and how to say no. For example, if talking about a peer pressure situation, ask questions like "What would you do if your friends want to go downtown after 9 pm?" or "What would you do if someone offers you a beer at a party?"
  • Use your own life examples of decision-making situations. For example, “Today at work, my colleague wanted to go out for a beer at lunch. Here’s how I handled it."
  • Practice debate and how to see many sides to a story at the dinner table. Discuss news and events and ask what they would do. This would also be a good time to discuss family values.
  • Coach your teen by saying things like "What are the options?" or "What are the consequences of each action?"
  • Help teens see longer term outcomes and how focusing on a goal can influence decisions. For example, "If I decide to skip practice, I won’t get to go on the team road trip."

 Model a healthy attitude toward alcohol use

  • Talk openly about alcohol but avoid giving the impression that drinking is glamorous or the only way to have fun
  • Avoid portraying alcohol as a dependable or reliable way to deal with stress. Such as, “I’ve had a bad day. I need a drink!” This can send the wrong message
  • Demonstrate ways of coping with stress without alcohol, such as exercising, listening to music, or talking things over with family or friends
  • Show that you don’t need to drink and say “no thanks” sometimes when offered alcohol

Demonstrate ways to reduce risk

Demonstrate lower-risk alcohol use to help children adopt patterns that promote individual and community well-being.

  • Follow Canada’s Guidance for Alcohol and Health and stay within the no-, low- or moderate-risk categories (drinking less than 7 standard drinks per week)
  • Set your limits and stick to them. Avoid drinking more than 2 standard drinks in a single occasion
  • Drink slowly
  • Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
  • Eat before and while you drink
  • Drink water between each drink
  • Plan to drink in a safe environment
  • Do not drink and drive. Plan a safe ride home before going out, and never let others drive after drinking in your home

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Last Updated: March 31, 2015