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Setting boundaries with young people around alcohol

Having a good relationship with your child is the best way of keeping them safe.

If they see you as being on their side they’re more likely to listen to what you have to say.

Do not turn a blind eye or give in if you have concerns about their safety.

Give choices

Give your child choices and freedom wherever you can. It will boost their self-esteem and confidence if they know you trust them.

Set boundaries

Teenagers can put up a good argument. But you still have the right to set the rules and say that you do not want them to drink or take drugs.

Having rules can help your child to:

  • avoid feeling under too much pressure from friends
  • avoid situations they cannot handle, or later regret
  • feel safer
  • feel loved

Clear, fair rules let your child know where they stand and show you care enough to protect them.

Start early

To help avoid conflict, make sure your child knows what you will allow and what you will not allow. Do this before a problem comes up.

Things you can tell a child of 11 or 12:

  • They can go to the local disco once they get to secondary school.
  • When they are older they will only be allowed to go to parties after you have spoken with the host child's parents.
  • You will not allow them to stay out past midnight until they are 16.

Be clear about what's right

Every family is different. Be clear about what's right for your family. Decide what’s OK and what’s not OK in your family and let your child know. If there are two parents or guardians in the house, make sure you both agree.

Talk about what you expect

Let your child know that you want them to be free to socialise and become independent.

Having more freedom depends on them proving they are responsible enough to stay safe. This means sticking to the rules.

Explain why you need rules

Explain why you need some rules about alcohol and drugs. This will help your child see that you care about their wellbeing.

Sharing some of the risks may help. When you have this discussion, listen to your child’s opinions without interrupting.

Involve your child in setting rules

Children are more likely to stick to rules if they’re involved and agree to them.

You could say:

"I know that some of your friends are going to be drinking at the party. I’m not happy about you drinking at your age, so I want to chat to you about how we are going to handle this."

Listen to their opinions and objections. Be prepared to negotiate and give them some of what they want, if possible. For example, staying out slightly later.

Make sure they understand the rules

If the rules are not clear, it’s harder for a child to stick to them.

If they break the rules

Agree what will happen if they break the rules.

Make the consequences fair:

  • If they are late home - they will have to come home earlier the next time until they get your trust.
  • If they do not answer their phone when they are out - they have to stay at home for a time.
  • If they buy alcohol - they will not get money for a time.

Make sure there are consequences

Consequences do not need to be severe. They just need to happen.

Do not make an exception. It will be much harder to try and make rules work in the future.

Acknowledge good behaviour

Make sure to notice and thank them if they stick to the rules or help to keep their friends safe.

You could make a point of rewarding their good behaviour with more freedom.

Managing resistance with a teenager about drinking alcohol

Page last reviewed: 20 August 2022
Next review due: 20 August 2025