Teenage drinking. It’s a subject many parents of teens don’t like to think about – or even discuss with their kids. Some parents assume that if they don’t have a drinking problem, and don’t have any alcohol in their home, their kids will be fine. But, according to a recent study, teenage drinking rarely has anything to do with the parent’s drinking habits. So who influences whether our kids will experiment with drinking or not? Their best friends.

Samuel Kuperman, from the University of Iowa, and several of his colleagues conducted a study on teenagers and alcohol. The study revealed that of the kids who’ve tried alcohol – 40% said their best friends drink as well. The research indicates that kids who have friends that drink, are double the risk of drinking  themselves.

So, what’s a parent to do with these numbers and findings? Communicate like crazy. Leaving those communication lines wide open with your teen, but doing it in a way that resonates with them, is huge. If you’re communicating with your teen, you may discover quickly when drinking is a problem with their friends. You can then help them navigate through an uncomfortable situation and learn how to avoid that first drink.

Here are 7 communication secrets every parent of a teen should know:

1. Skip the lecture and have an actual conversation.

A lecture is one person talking at another person. A conversation includes two people talking with each other. How do you get your teen to talk to you? Ask questions.

2. Keep the conversation short, simple and to the point.

Don’t beat around the bush when it comes to talking to your teen. If your conversations end up being 30 minute talks, they’ll groan inside and immediately tune you out when they hear you want “to talk”. Some of the best conversations are those that are short and sweet.

3. Listen. Listen.Listen.

Did I mention listen? When you ask your teen a question, be okay with the silence for a few minutes. Most likely they’re trying to process what you asked and figure out the best way to respond. Don’t try to fill the awkward silence with your words. Be patient, sit back and wait.

4. Show respect for your teen and their opinions.

Most likely you and your teen don’t think alike. Shocking, I know. Just because you view something different, doesn’t mean you’re right and they’re wrong. Respect their opinion. Talk about why they feel this way – and again, as point number one says, have a conversation about it.

5. Praise them more than anything.

As humans, we’re already wired to remember that one negative comment. But, if that one negative comment is cushioned with 10 good ones, it makes the blow less hurtful. Make it a point to praise your teen. Even the smallest things like “Thank you so much for rinsing your cereal bowl” or “Sweet! All of your clothes made it into the hamper. Thank you!”, can go a long, long way.

6. Don’t correct a behavior in front of friends or other siblings.

Correcting an issue in private goes much farther than pointing it out in front of everyone and embarrassing them. It helps in two ways:  a) you can express why what they did or said is an issue and you can express it in a calm manner and b) it helps you to gain respect from your teen. My husband and I have used this rule in our house for a long time. We never punish in front of friends or other siblings.  We discuss the issue and the punishment in private. Many amazing conversations with our teens have happened because of this one simple rule.

7. Work on problem solving together.

You need to be your teen’s biggest fan. They need to know you’re on their side and will do anything to help them succeed. By working on problems and solving them together, you will gain their trust and respect. If their friends are drinking and they’re feeling the pressure, ask questions like “What are some of your ideas on this?” or “How do you think we can make sure you don’t get involved in an uncomfortable situation?”

Do you have some communication secrets you use in your house with your kids? Please share them and also let me know which of the 7 communication secrets is your favorite.