As a father and an employee to an alcohol rehab, I'm wondering when I should talk to my son (age 9) about alcohol?

I've met a lot of people who've harmed themselves with the substance but, when I do talk to him about it, I don't want to scare him.

Any and all suggestions are welcome.


  • Has your son ever tasted alcohol in your presence? What was his reaction? (Did he like it? Did he think it tasted bad?)
    – Jasper
    Dec 2, 2015 at 8:51
  • Do you (or your wife) ever drink alcohol? Have you ever cooked with alcohol, or drunk alcohol in the presence of your son? Do any of you attend religious services during which members of the congregation imbibe small amounts of alcohol? (For example, the communion ceremony in a normal Catholic mass?)
    – Jasper
    Dec 2, 2015 at 8:55

4 Answers 4


According to http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA67/AA67.htm about 15% of 8th graders binge drink on a regular basis so 9 years is probably not a good age to start. Whether you like it or not, your child will be exposed to alcohol first probably in middle school

Besides the age, you need to be also clear about what exactly you want to teach to him. The main approach at least in the US seems to be to advocate "no alcohol" behavior. Legal drinking age is 21.

The problem is: it doesn't work. 99% of all high school kids know how to get access to alcohol and drugs. In college, alcohol is easily available (regardless of what policy the university claims to have and enforce). As a result many teenagers and young adults drink in very unsafe situations. If someone gets seriously ill or injured, the other kids are very reluctant to get help, since they are (rightfully) afraid to get into trouble. If someone is behaving badly, is taken advantage of, or simply can't make any decisions anymore, there is no one there to mitigate and manage the situation. Sorry for being graphic: a girl in my daughter's dorm who had little alcohol experience before college would get hammered every night and when being drunk have sex with any random guy. Lots of them. Next day she felt bad about it, so she started drinking and do it all over again. This is NOT a particular rare or atypical case.

Now a good party and responsible alcohol use can be great fun and it's an integral part of college life and our social culture in general. The challenge for parents is how to best prepare the kids for it. The "no alcohol before 21" approach seems silly. You don't teach kids how to swim by waiting until they are "old enough" and then throw them in the deep end of the pool. Your personal approach may vary but we made sure that all our kids had their first alcohol experiences in a safe environment and that they had a chance to safely figure out how they personally react to it, how much is "too much", and what happens if you have "way too much".

  • Much like how babies will fall when they're learning how to walk. It's a part of the learning process, just make sure their in a safe environment.
    – Ben
    Jun 18, 2013 at 17:14

As with many topics, I would not force it upon him but rather wait for a suitable situation to present itself. I don't think there's a "right age" for this talk, or rather that this "age" is not counted in years but in observations and questions.

In your case, it might be when he asks you what do you do at work, or simply a situation at home where he notices that mom and dad (or someone else he observes) take a glass of wine with dinner and he doesn't get one.

When he does eventually ask, have a short and simple response ready. It's like coffee, or tobacco. It's something that only grown-ups get and something that can be dangerous. It's okay to consume (wine/chocolate/whatever) in small doses but anything can become harmful if you're not careful. (Coffee might be a stretch, but I'm not aiming at being scientific here.)

Give him time to absorb this. If he asked about the wine at dinner time, bring it up the following evening, just ask if he remembers what you said. If you're at an event where someone got a bit tipsy, or he notices a drunk person in the street, remind him of what you said about (lack of) moderation. Depending on his maturity, you can also start explaining what it is you do and how you'd go about handling a person like that.

Also, be a role model. Walk the talk. Say out loud what's common sense to you: I'd better only have a single glass of wine or else I'll feel bad. I'm sure your work gives you plenty of ideas that are better than what I could come up with here, but I thought I'd mention it.

Personal opinion: Go ahead and scare him. Why not? There's no objective benefit to alcohol, it's not something we need, so there's nothing about it that's worthy to "protect."

  • 3
    "Go ahead and scare him. Why not?" = because it's not necessarily scary, and once the child has their first beer and realized the world didn't end, they now may second guess a lot of what the parent had said. Instead, just be honest. Alcohol can cause a lot of problems for some people. But for a lot of people, it's not a problem at all.
    – DA01
    May 21, 2013 at 22:03
  • 1
    @DA01: Realism can be just as scary as exaggerations; it just takes a bit more effort. You don't tell them that the world will end if they have one drink. You never tell them to think that way--one cause, one effect, and that's the end of it--unless you want them to turn out stupid. What you teach them is that effects are causes too. Teach them to think more than one step down the road, and how the effect of alcohol is to make it so much easier to take other steps afterwards that eventually lead you to horrible, disastrous, miserable places. Impress that on their minds, and they're safe. May 22, 2013 at 3:04
  • @MasonWheeler I think we're roughly on the same page.
    – DA01
    May 22, 2013 at 3:07

Ooohhh... The Talk.

I don't think I've ever had The Talk about anything with my kids as I don't approach it that way... it's uncomfortable and unnatural and I like it just as little as they do.

In my house, if a subject even remotely comes up, I just follow thru with the flow and just say what can be said. It comes off as natural and it's informative without being uncomfy.

With this approach, I've managed to dispense info on a number of things (sex, drugs, rock n roll, masturbation, theft, etc) at ages that would probably not be considered "appropriate"... but, since it came from a natural evolution of communication (like a surprise joint smoking scene in a movie... hey, it happens) I've found that the information sticks. A number of these conversations over the years later, and I find that my older kids have made socially appropriate decisions.

To answer your question: I don't think any age is "too early". But you do have to know your kid well enough to talk to them in a way they'll understand, whenever that conversation takes place.


Things to consider & not consider:

  • Maturity (Some children are mature at 6 while others are still immature at 14)
  • Environment (Are they in an environment where they see/hear more about people with alcohol abusive habits)
  • Gender(Contrary to popular belief gender does not carry a significant role and the statistics for alcohol trial at a younger age are fairly similar.)

These factors should always impact the time and the type of talk.

I would say for an average 9 year old living in a mid to high income area, with internet access and an average circle of friends(not trouble makers but not angels either), 9 is still a little too early for the topic, simply because they would not have had enough interaction with alcohol related situations to even have the message sink in or carry any positive impact. I believe, drawing a little bit from my own experiences as well as observing modern day youth, that 11 and 12 is an ideal age to start bringing up alcohol and exposing it's negatives as well as positives. It is important to point out that at an older age drinking is NOT WRONG as long as it is done responsibly. If you simply talk about all the negatives, they will have the wrong idea about alcohol, and when they experiment with it, and find the experience positive, they will ignore the rest of the things you said as well. Therefore, while exposing the negative aspects is important, make sure you are being upfront and honest with them. At 11 and 12 they are capable of discerning truths from folktales parents tell children to just scare them off of doing things.

Good luck!

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