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Ages 12-17 → facilitator

Our main parenting goal for this stage: Help your teen make sense of a complicated world and incorporate family values into their decisions about alcohol

What’s happening?

With the onset of puberty, our children’s brains begin developing rapidly. They’re moving from concrete thought to abstract, intellectual thought. With the blossoming of critical thinking skills, they start to question rules and test boundaries. They may notice and complain about inconsistencies. For example: “Why does Matt’s dad let him taste beer, but you don’t let me?” The world is presenting them with a lot of complex, contradictory information, and they’re trying hard to make sense of it all.

During this stage, kids become susceptible to outside influences. Friends and neighbours become more important in their lives. This can cause anxiety for parents. It’s natural to feel we’re losing control over our children’s lives. However, we can maintain and build influence if our relationship is respectful.

What do our kids need?

Our job now is to help our teens analyze and process the world around them. By shifting our focus from concrete rules to becoming facilitators, we help them understand new experiences and friendships within the context of our personal beliefs and values.

Teens crave information and opinions, but don’t want to be told what to do. The best approach is to permit age-appropriate decision-making and allow safe, natural consequences to occur.

Parents in this stage can also help their teens manage negative peer pressure, and ensure they gain assertiveness and problem-solving skills to manage life’s challenges.

Starting the conversation

  • Kids at this age like to talk while engaged in an activity. Try beginning conversations about alcohol when you’re both in the car, on a walk, or making dinner together.
  • Connect. Ask about interests and events in their lives – music, movies, books, clothes and video games. You’ll discover more about your teen and better understand what’s going on in their lives. Be willing to suspend your agenda.
  • Ask for opinions, and let them know all opinions are valid.
  • Feel free to share your experiences.
  • Stay calm, even if you’re uncomfortable. Over-reactions shut down relationships and destroy trust.
  • When the responses change to “Yeah” or “Nope” or “I dunno,” accept that the conversation might be over.

Practical strategies

Shift to value statements

Help them understand rules in the context of our personal beliefs and expectations.


  • “I know that some parents let their kids drink alcohol. But in our family, we don’t drink until we’re legal drinking age.”
  • “In some countries, the rules about alcohol are different. But in our country, it’s against the law to drink until you’re an adult. I believe it’s important to respect the law.”

Ask questions and have conversations that respect their maturity


  • “Do you have any questions about alcohol?”
  • “OK, I’m going to tell you everything I know about alcohol and what it does to your body.”
  • “If you ever have questions about alcohol or drinking, here are some more people you can turn to… (list of mentors).”

Allow them to trust the power of “no” and grow their assertiveness skills

Important skills take time to develop. Our kids need to learn to resist one of the most powerful forces in the world: peer pressure. Our role is to help them build the confidence to say, “No thanks, I don’t want to drink.”

But the fact is, most teens don’t have a lot of practice asserting their willpower in high-stress situations. Sure, our kids disagree with us all the time about small things like bedtime, food, chores, etc. But most of the time, who wins? Parents. In a subtle but constant way, this gives kids the message that their “no” doesn’t mean much.

As our children get older, it’s a good idea to look for opportunities to let them disagree with us…and win. Of course, we shouldn’t reinforce bad decisions. But in low-risk decisions such as music, fashion or whether or not they’ll join us for a trip to the supermarket, there’s an opportunity for them to exercise personal choices. This is an easy way to encourage them to take a stand on something and create the expectation that others should take them seriously.

Adults and kids alike, we need to value and respect ourselves just as much as we respect others. An ideal family environment includes teaching how to assert oneself, by example. Children need to see they can make decisions without changing the other person’s love and acceptance of them.

Here are a few ways parents teach their children to be appropriately assertive:

  • When your child says “no” to you, respect their response (to the extent appropriate)
  • When your child says “no” to his siblings, teach the siblings to respect it.
  • When your child says “No, thank you,” politely to other adults, back him up.
  • When you say “No” to others, expect them to respect it too.

Help Your Teen Say "No" to Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a life-long issue that can be positive or negative. Assertion against negative peer pressure is a learned skill, and one that will help your child in many situations.

How you can help:

Role play different ways to say "no."

  • If you want to say “no” in another way, try asking questions. Go ahead.
    • “What if such and such happens?”
  • Give it a name.
    • “That’s stealing! No way.
  • Get an ally or suggest an alternative.
    • “No, Jason and I are going to the hockey game.”
  • Offer an excuse.
    • “I have to go and meet someone.”
  • Use different words for "no."
    • “I can’t.”
    • “I don’t feel like it today.”
When your children resist peer pressure, they run the risk of being ostracized by peers. There are times when a parent’s support is needed.

  • Acknowledge feelings, listen, and be available to provide support.
  • Spend more time with your teen to help build confidence and self-esteem.

Problem-solve, don’t punish

If our kids question our authority, it’s tempting to crack down with stricter rules and harsher penalties. But this can push our kids away at the worst possible moment – when they’re turning to peers for information and support. Whenever our children have problems, the priority is to help them come up with possible solutions that are acceptable to both parent and child.

What if you learn your underage teenager has been drinking?

Stay calm

  • If needed, take time-out, or work through your anger by talking with a friend. When calm, it’s possible to have a logical – versus an emotional – discussion.

Calm your child

  • Don’t try to discuss the issue with an impaired teen.
  • Wait until your child can think logically.

Solve the problem

  • Negotiate a time and place to talk with your child: perhaps a walk (which makes it easy to avoid contact) to a coffee shop.

Use the six-step, problem-solving method:

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. What are the child’s (and parent’s) underlying needs?
  3. Brainstorm solutions.
  4. Evaluate each solution.
  5. Choose a solution and write it down.
  6. Check back in a week or month and see how it is working.

Ask an Expert

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