A Clinical Psychologist and Best-selling Author, Dr. Wolf received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the City University of New York and received a bachelor's degree from Columbia College. He has been a practicing psychologist for over 25 years, seeing children and adolescents in the Springfield, Massachusetts area. Dr. Wolf is the author of many books on parenting children and adolescents, including the best selling book, Get out of my life but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the Mall? A Guide to the New Teenager and I’d Listen to my Parents if they’d just shut up. Dr. Wolf is a frequent contributor to parenting magazines including Parents, Family Circle, and has written for CHILD Magazine. He has won numerous awards, and his works have been featured in TIME and O Magazine.
Read more parenting advice from Dr. Wolf in our Parent's Corner.
“Katie, I want to have a talk with you about drinking.”
“Omigod, not again. Do we have to?”
You desperately want to talk to your kid about the serious problems with underage drinking. But the last thing that they seem to want is to listen. Especially to you.
You hear about peer pressure. How teens are so much influenced by their peers. How little influence parents have. Yet it is not what it seems. Parents do make a very real difference. It is just that it does not always seem that way.
Yes, it would be nice if you got, “Thanks for the advice, Mom. You gave me some serious stuff to think about. I can’t wait to share this with Stacy and Madison.”
It doesn’t work that way.
The trick is to push ahead despite their apparent lack of enthusiasm. Do not be deterred. Despite how it may seem, they do hear, and surprisingly your words do sink in. They may not always agree, they may not always follow your advice, but your words are in their heads.
How do you get them to hear? By talking. And by doing it again and again. Don’t be put off by their negativity. That comes as a normal part of adolescence. They want to see themselves as independent adult-like beings, and you - just by your existence - make them feel like a dependent little kid.
“Yeah, my parents still think I’m a little baby – which obviously I am not.”
For them taking advice is like admitting their child status. For them ‘no’ feels far more mature than ‘yes.’ So don’t take it personally, it’s not.
How should you talk to them? What should you say?
For starters, understand that your main aim is not so much in conveying specific pieces of wise information. Most important is to establish that you and they can talk about serious subjects in an open, mutually respectful, adult-like manner.
The key is not to lecture. Instead, you want to talk with them – back and forth.
Teens repeatedly say, “I can’t say anything to my parents without their turning it into a lecture. So why bother?”
This non-lecturing is difficult for us because we’re so used to our parent to child advice mode. It takes practice. Tell them what you think. But don’t talk too long. Make it short and simple. And then say no more. Hear what they have to say. When they talk, listen, don’t correct. You don’t always have to jump in, even if it seems super important to get in your really crucial point right then.
What should you say? Say what most troubles you about the very real risks of underage drinking. For maximum impact it needs to be your genuine fears, what is in your heart. There is not the perfect argument. The best that you can accomplish – which is pretty good – is to convey your real fear.
“My mom is really scared about the idea of me drinking. I’m not saying I agree with her. But it really does scare her."
The main point: You can have a very real influence on whether your child drinks or not. And a powerful way that you can do that is by talking with them. Whatever it is that you may say, say it and say it often. You are getting through, despite how it may seem. You have far more influence than you think. Keep trying.