Many times on the parent coaching team, we hear from parents who say something like this: “My teen went out with friends last night.  I think they were drinking, but I’m not sure.  What kind of consequence can I give my child to make sure that this doesn’t happen again?”

When I get calls like this, I hear the concern and love these parents have for their children, wanting to protect them from any harm which may occur while their teen is under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  I also hear the anger and frustration at the fact that their child is possibly disobeying their rules about underage drinking.  There is also uncertainty on how to deal with this, as the parent does not know for sure what happened the night before.

The most helpful thing you can do as a parent is to get all the facts.  Although it is easy to react out of that fear and frustration, you can do harm to your relationship if you accuse your child of wrongdoing without concrete proof.  Rather than going with your gut feeling of “I just know that he was up to something!” look at what is happening to cause those feelings.  Is he acting in unusual ways?  Does he smell like alcohol?  Was he not answering his cell phone when you called?  You can also try talking with the parents of the other kids to find out what happened.

Once you have the information, we recommend talking with your teen in a direct, non-confrontational manner.  For example, you might say, “I am concerned that something may have gone on last night when you went out with your friends.  When you came home today, your eyes were bloodshot, and Joe’s mom said you weren’t there last night and you told me you were.  What is going on?”  Give your child a chance to give his side of the story.

When your child is telling his side, we recommend just taking the time to listen.  Don’t interrupt your child or accuse him of lying.  While this is a very emotional situation, accusations and blaming will not help your relationship with your child.  You can then take the opportunity to restate what your family rules and expectations are. For example, “It is illegal to drink before you are 21, and it is against our house rules for you to do so.”  This leads into doing some problem solving as well: “What are you going to do if you are out with your friends and someone offers you a beer?”

If you do discover that your teen was drinking, we recommend holding him accountable for his actions. (For ideas on how to do this, check out all our articles here) You can also hold your child accountable for other actions he may have taken, such as being late for curfew, or not being where he told you he would be.  While we do not recommend giving consequences if you do not have proof that your teen was doing anything wrong, you can watch your child’s behavior more closely and follow up with him as needed.  We also recommend letting your child know what the consequences will be if you discover that he has been drinking.  Although it is hard to be in this uncertain situation, it is preferable to the damage and resentment that accusations without proof can cause.

Related Content:
Teens and Privacy: Should I Spy on My Child?
Teens, Alcohol and Binge Drinking: Why Kids Are Drinking Hard Alcohol at a Younger Age


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated EmpoweringParents Parent Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

Comments (5)
  • Lara
    My daughter is 15 and her friends like to drink I'm afraid of peer pressure and I don't know how to pull her away
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      It’s quite common to be scared and worried when you discover that your teen’s friends are engaging in risky behavior such as drinking. You are not alone in experiencing this concern. Although a normal reaction is wanting to forbid your child from spending time with these friends inMore order to avoid this influence, this doesn’t tend to be effective overall. Most teens identify more strongly with their friends than their parents, and telling your daughter that she can’t be friends with a certain group of people might actually strengthen their bond. Instead, it will be more effective to reinforce your family rules around underage drinking, and to focus on your daughter’s own behavior and actions. The truth is, we are all surrounded by numerous influences, both positive and negative, every day. In the end, we are each responsible for the choices we make, regardless of influence. You might find more tips on how to handle this in Does Your Child Have “Toxic” Friends? 6 Ways to Deal with the Wrong Crowd. Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.
  • Rebecca Wolfenden

    Hi Tracy: It can be scary, confusing and frustrating when you have a teen who chooses to drink or smoke when he or she is not legally old enough to do so. While you cannot physically control your teen’s behavior, you can control what your house rules are, and how you hold them accountable to those rules. Consequences are not going to change the behavior by themselves, however; we recommend also having a problem-solving conversation with your teen about what he was thinking when he decided to drink or smoke, and what he will do differently next time he is at a party and people are drinking, or someone offers him a cigarette. It is difficult to define an appropriate consequence without knowing all the details; however, you can find some great guidelines around effective consequences in these articles by Janet Lehman: How to Get Your Child to Listen: 9 Secrets to Giving Effective Consequences
    Risky Teen Behavior: Can You Trust Your Child Again?

    Take care and we wish you the best.

  • tracy
    what is an appropriate consequence for a teen that engages in underage drinking, lying about it, and smoking and lying about that as well?
  • Carol Kramer
    They sell breathalyzers at drugstores, keep them on hand and tell your child that you WILL use one on them when they get home. Don't forget to follow thru with the consequents that you have already set up.
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