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Ages 18-21→ coach

Our main parenting goal for this stage: Encourage smart decisions by helping them think through possible scenarios that involve alcohol.

What’s happening?

This is the stage at which young adults have developed a sense of who they are and what they believe. They’ve also decided whether drinking is right or wrong, based on the foundation you have laid, in conjunction with other influences in their lives. At this stage, it’s key for parents to stay connected and be active listeners – even when it seems like our young adults aren’t really interested in talking.

What do young adults need?

Young adults continue to count on you as a parent. But, unlike when they were younger, they’re now independent thinkers, so parents can no longer simply rely on rules and regulations to guide their kids. Parental influence depends on the strength of the relationship. Are you really listening to their concerns and ideas? When you talk about alcohol, do you ask yes or no questions, or open-ended questions that lead to conversation and reflection?

This is one of the most critical times in your child’s life. Even though they can now legally drink, their brain development is such that they still aren’t fully adept when it comes to decision-making. For example, young adults may go out on their birthdays when they are of legal drinking age and make poor decisions out of inexperience. Also due to inexperience, they often don’t know their limit.

In the coaching stage, a parent’s role includes helping our kids make a healthy and safe transition into adults who, if they choose to drink when of legal age, do so responsibly. This involves asking open-ended questions that help them think about what might happen in alcohol-related situations.

Starting the Conversation

  • Start a conversation when working on projects, having a coffee, playing sports, making dinner or traveling together.
  • Connect with them first. For example, ask questions about their work or university, or ask their opinions on current events, movies, music, books, etc.
  • Stay calm if you’re told information that makes you uncomfortable. A good relationship is preserved only without criticism and judgment.
  • Consult. Ask for permission to express your opinion. With consent, state your worries, feelings, opinions and facts about your concern. Avoid nagging: leave the decision-making up to your young adult and promise not to bring up the topic again. If you don’t get consent to give your opinion, then hold your tongue. Remember, asking for permission is a good example of respect.

Practical strategies

Listen with an open mind

One of the biggest barriers to communication with young adults is our belief that their problems – with friends, school, peer pressure, love interests, etc. – are trivial. They may seem trivial to us, but to young adults such problems may appear massive. If we discount the importance of the pressures they face – especially when it comes to alcohol – they may shut us out.

To keep the lines of communication open, we can work on our listening skills. If we listen without an agenda, our kids will feel respected, and be more likely to show us respect in return.

Get curious: ask better questions

Now is the time to start asking open-ended questions that help our young adults think through potential scenarios involving alcohol, as well as the potential consequences. The more curious we are about their lives, the more relevant and effective our questions will be.


  • “What would you do if your best friend asked you to drink?”
  • “What do you think would happen if your ride home from the party started drinking? What would your plan be?”
  • “Can I ask your opinion? What are some of the reasons kids drink?”
  • “What are some of the things you’re looking forward to after graduation?"
  • “How do you think those would be affected if you make mistakes with alcohol?”

Avoid communication stoppers

While we’re building our constructive conversation skills, we can also work on eliminating destructive conversation tendencies.


  • Accusations – “I know you’re drinking.”
  • Interruptions – “I don’t want to hear your excuses.”
  • Starting with an agenda, or deciding what’s going to be discussed before our kids have a chance to talk – “I want to get to the bottom of your disobedience/lying/etc.”

If you really need to give your opinion, ask first if they want to receive it. If they say “no” let it drop. Timing of conversations is everything and the timing might not be correct for the moment. If they say “yes,” give your opinion by expressing your concerns and needs and encourage more discussion.

Maintain your influence and values

If you’ve ever pushed your partner to lose weight, exercise, or quit smoking, you likely know it’s difficult to get someone else to adopt your values. A person will only change when and if they want, but they can be positively influenced. Young adults typically won’t disclose all their values, and you may find some hard to accept. However, your relationship will be harmed if you attack their values.

Here are some ways to influence your young adult:


  • Live your values. Lead by example.

Consultation session

  • Request a one-time consultation session to share your concerns. But it’s up to young adults to decide whether to change.


  • A carefully-crafted I-statement can be effective: “I am terrified when you drive after drinking, because alcohol slows your reactions and impacts your decision making. You could kill someone, or be killed.”


  • Ask permission to help solve the problem.

Parents can feel frustrated and powerless. It helps to remember we still have an influence on our kids’ decisions about alcohol, and to keep applying the principles of the coaching approach.

Ask an Expert

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