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Setting a Good Example for Your Teens


mom and teen on couch talking


The things you do and the way you act influence your teen’s choices and behaviours. When it comes to using alcohol, modelling low-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 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. Remember how easily they picked up expressions (especially the ones you wish they hadn’t)? As they grow into teenagers, they are influenced more and more by people and things outside of home.

But your attitudes are still important influences when it comes to many things, including drinking alcohol or using other drugs. That said, children are not born as blank slates on which to write your patterns. Rather, they learn to process observations, make choices about what to imitate and when to engage in certain behaviours, like drinking.

What Your Actions Demonstrate

Try to provide good examples for your teen to follow when it comes to substance use:

  • Moderate drinking shows how to have a healthy relationship with alcohol.
  • Abstaining from drinking shows them that alcohol isn’t essential for having fun and enjoying life.
  • Drinking heavily and often shows them that you try to solve problems in an unhealthy way.

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 from friends, or maybe even from friends’ parents.

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?"

"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."

  • Practise debate and how to see many sides to a story at the dinner table, discuss news and events and ask what they would do; discuss family values.
  • Coach your teen by saying things like:

"What are the options?"
"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."

Did you know?
Parents are the biggest influence on their kids’ choices and behaviours.

Drink Responsibly as a parent

Responsible drinking means enjoying the benefits of alcohol while avoiding harms to yourself, your family, and others. This means practising moderation, following these three rules humans have learned through thousands of years of experience:


3 Drinking Rules

1. Understand your relationship with alcohol

The “if, when, where, how and why,” for drinking alcohol can be complex. From personal characteristics to broad social factors, many things shape attitudes and behaviours. Start drinking responsibly by exploring your relationship with alcohol and other drugs by:

2. Remember 2-3-4-0 (Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines)

Women who want to avoid long-term problems should limit themselves to two drinks a day and 10 a week. For men, the limits are three drinks a day and 15 a week. That’s the 2-3 part of the expression.

There is no harm in drinking a little more than that every now and then. On a special occasion, for example, women may have three drinks and men four (provided that such special occasions don’t occur too frequently). That’s the 3-4 part.

In situations where any impairment reduces ability to function safely and responsibly, don’t consume alcohol. That’s the 0. The 0 also means planning some non-drinking days ever week.

3. Be a role model

Demonstrate responsible use to help set appropriate community standards and help children adopt patterns that promote individual and community well-being.

  • 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. How about saying “no thanks” sometimes when offered alcohol.
  • Don’t drink and drive; plan a safe ride home before going out, and never let others drive after drinking in your home.

4. Drink moderately

  • Set your limits and stick to them
  • Drink slowly - Have no more than two drinks in any three hours
  • Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
  • Eat before and while you drink
  • Plan to drink in a safe environment

Resources & Links:

Tips for Parents of Teens
Cutting Back or Quitting Drinking Alcohol 


Last Updated: March 31, 2015