Talking about alcohol

It’s never too early (or too late) to start talking with your child about alcohol and why it’s important they avoid drinking while they are young. You can support your child by setting clear expectations and being prepared for conversations.

Tips for talking with teens

You don’t have to be an expert, but think about what you want to say, and be ready to answer some difficult questions. Think about your beliefs about underage drinking, and what your child may ask and how you might respond.

Parents tell us starting the discussion when you’re both relaxed is helpful – like at the dinner table, when you’re driving them somewhere, or watching TV together.

It’s important your child knows the risks associated with alcohol but at the same time, if you use scare tactics, your child may dismiss what you are saying.

This lets your child know you are interested and helps maintain a close relationship.

Prepare for peer pressure to drink and how to respond.

What they are doing and who they are with. Get to know their friends, and friends’ parents, where possible.

That drinking is a normal part of growing up, and everyone starts drinking alcohol eventually. More young people are choosing to not drink than ever before.

Let your child see you refuse a drink and choose to have alcohol free days. 

Under 18s should not drink alcohol

Alcohol guideline for under 18s

No amount of alcohol is safe for under 18s. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that children and people under 18 should not drink alcohol to reduce the risk of injury and other harms to health.

Setting expectations

From an early age, parents keep their children safe, help them to manage their feelings and impulses, and let them know how they are expected to behave. Rules and expectations about using alcohol is no different.

Giving your child alcohol at home or on special occasions under your supervision, is not a safe way to introduce them to alcohol. Young people who get alcohol from their parents, even small amounts like sips and tastes are more likely to: 

  • Start drinking at an earlier age 
  • Drink at high-risk levels (binge drinking) 
  • Experience harms from alcohol 
  • Access alcohol from other sources, such as friends, which is more likely to result in harm


Be specific about your expectation that your child should not drink any alcohol before they are 18. If there are two parents or guardians, try to make sure that you have the same rules.

It’s easier to say no when we all say no. Join the two out of three (67%) parents in Western Australia who are already saying no to giving alcohol to under 18s. 

Be ready for tough questions

Parents can feel pressured to provide alcohol to their child. Being prepared with responses can make it easier to navigate tricky conversations. Here are some common questions/comments you might hear from your child, and some possible answers that may help you to say ‘no’.

You could say:

“I don’t have any say in what your friends do, but I love you and want to keep you safe. I don’t want you to drink until you are older. Perhaps we could think about what you could say if you are feeling pressured to drink when you don’t want to.”

“Actually, most children your age don’t drink, even if sometimes it feels like everyone is doing it.”

You could say:

“No, not even a sip. Your body and brain are still growing, and alcohol can harm your body and brain and cause you to do things that are unsafe. I don’t want you drinking alcohol at your age.”

The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol say that for children and young people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol.

You could say:

“Yes, but I’m an adult. My body has stopped growing. Your body and brain are still developing and can be more affected by alcohol, so I’d like you to wait as long as possible before you try it. When you are an adult you can make your own decisions about whether or not you will drink.”

You could also discuss that even as an adult you have to consider how much you can drink and when you can do so. For parents who drink it’s important their children sometimes also see them choosing not to drink.

You could say:

“No, you know our family rules. No alcohol until you are over 18.”

Of course, this is much easier to say if you have had a conversation with your child and discussed your expectations about alcohol, and that you have developed some family rules.

You could say:

“I know you don’t want to feel the odd one out, but it’s my job to do what I think is best. I’m not happy about you being there with no adults when people are going to be drinking.”

What would you do?

Life throws parents challenges as children grow up. See how you might respond if you were one of the parents in the situations below.

What should Sharon do? 

Two mums, Sharon and Jan, are having a glass of champagne on a Friday evening at Jan’s house when their daughters Suzie and Jess (both 13) join them in the kitchen. Jess asks her mum, Jan, for a sip, which Jan lets her have. “Aren’t you going to have some?” Jess asks Suzie. Suzie looks at her mum, Sharon....should Sharon...

Say no: Sharon explains that Suzie is not 18 yet and she is not allowed alcohol. Saying ‘no’ is an important choice because the evidence suggests that children like boundaries, clear rules and guidelines. 

Allow Suzie to have a sip: Parents feel peer pressure too. But research shows that supervised sips and tastes of alcohol do NOT ‘teach’ young people to drink responsibly. 

Don’t get caught on the hop! Be prepared for family conversations about alcohol. The longer young people delay beginning to drink alcohol, the lower their risk of developing risky drinking patterns and the better their physical, mental and social outcomes.

What should Daren do? 

Kay and Darren have a son, Brett, aged 13 and a daughter Mia aged 15. Kay’s brother, the kids’ favourite Uncle Jimmy, has come over for dinner and has brought some beer with him. While Darren is checking on the BBQ, he hears Jimmy ask Brett if he’d like a beer ‘now he’s in high school’.

Say no: Darren tells Jimmy that they have a rule that Brett is not allowed to drink alcohol, so please don’t offer him any. Let other family members know what your expectations are for your child regarding alcohol. Children are less likely to drink if their parents communicate the negative effects of alcohol and have clear strict rules prohibiting drinking by their underage child...should Darren...

Allow Brett to have a sip of beer: This may send the message to Brett and other family members that he doesn’t mind him drinking. Research suggests that supervised sips and tastes of alcohol do NOT ‘teach’ young people to drink responsibly. 

Allow Brett to have a bottle of beer: Darren is sending the message to Brett and to others that he doesn’t mind him drinking. Research shows that parental supply of alcohol is associated with more frequent drinking and increased likelihood of binge drinking during later adolescence. No one should give alcohol to under 18’s.  

No one should give alcohol to under 18’s. It’s easier to say no when we all say no.   

Most parents of 12 to 17 year olds in WA say they have never given their child alcohol

Research with WA parents shows they commonly overestimate how many other parents give alcohol to under 18s, and this perception influences their own decisions. WA parents tell us they want to feel supported and empowered in their decision to say ‘no’.

Learn more

Acknowledgement: Content on this webpage has been adapted from the Supporting Family Conversations Project under a license from the Telethon Kids Institute. The Supporting Family Conversations content was created in partnership with the Department of Education and Telethon Kids Institute with funding from Healthway.

Supporting Family Conversations and Telethon Kids Institute Acknowledgement

Page last updated6 December 2023