As a parent, it may seem as if everything you say goes in your child’s ear and out the other. However, research shows that 75 percent of teens say their parents are the number one influence on their decisions surrounding underage drinking. You have the power to equip your teen to make smarter, safer choices and all it takes is a conversation. Many conversations.

The important thing is to stay connected, even if your child resists in typical teen fashion. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) partners with Dr. Robert Turrisi and his colleagues at Pennsylvania State University to develop research that helps parents talk effectively with their teens about alcohol.

Never too early

If you are wondering if it is too soon to talk to your child about alcohol, take a moment to think about how often they are possibly exposed to it. Television, movies, advertisements, sporting events, family gatherings, holidays and special occasions — alcohol is engrained in the fabric of our society. What message is it sending to your child and what misperceptions are being created? Parents can combat this concern by making their message very clear: zero tolerance for alcohol until age 21.

It is not enough to teach basic family values, one must discuss the consequences surrounding alcohol and other impairing substances, as well. Utilizing research-based resources such as what MADD provides to the community helps to guide parents through these discussions and arm them with the facts about teens and alcohol.

"[P]arents should remember that how they talk with their teen is as important as what they tell them."

Say it right

Sometimes teens react badly to sensitive discussions — they are seeking independence while still being strongly influenced by their peers. What could a parent possibly tell them that they don’t know already? They are focused on the here and now because their brains are still developing. It’s up to parents to help them think about the long-term consequences of their actions.

However, parents should remember that how they talk with their teen is as important as what they tell them. Identifying a parenting style that works best for your family will help you effectively communicate with your teen. Getting your teen to open up may be difficult, but if you avoid a lecture, distinguish between fact and opinion, listen and try to understand without being defensive or making excessive commentary, you will make a lot of progress.

Know your kids

An open and honest discussion can correct both the parent’s and teen’s assumptions about underage drinking.

Do you think your A-student, star athlete son or daughter is not interested in alcohol? Are you positive their friends are good kids who always make good decisions? Do you know if other adults in your child’s life share your position on underage drinking? Parenting is challenging enough in a digital age, and there are several influencing factors to consider. Talk early, talk often and make sure everyone is on the same page: no alcohol until age 21 and never get in the car with someone who has been drinking.

You have the power to make a difference and your teens are listening. What are you saying? Visit www.madd.org/powerofparents for more resources to keep you and your family safe.