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How I’m showing my daughter that drinking and driving don’t mix

“What can I get you to drink,” my friend kindly asks.

“Lemonade or water would be great, thanks!” I respond.

When that’s met with a quizzical look or a raised eyebrow, I’ll add with a smile, “I’m driving.”

With the summer social season underway, I expect this exchange to take place at least a few times over the summer, and I’m hoping that it takes place in front of my tween daughter.

I have a policy of not driving at all if I've consumed alcohol. I used to think that if I had just one adult beverage, it was okay for me to drive. I changed course as my daughter got older, and as I started talking with her about alcohol.  The statistics are startling.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver every day. That is one drunk driving death every 51 minutes.

I think if you are talking about drinking with your kids, the corollary conversation is about drinking and driving. I did not want to send the message that alcohol and driving can mix. Abstaining from drinking when driving is a safe, bright-line rule that’s easy to follow. It’s tough to know your BAC, which can vary depending on weight, food, etc. (learn about that here). No need to worry with this approach. It may seem extreme to some, but it works for us.

When I’m not driving, I happily enjoy a frosty margarita or glass of wine. I’m not a teetotaler, but I do want to make a clear distinction between when I’m driving and when I am not.

As parents, we hope that kids will do as we say, but I think kids are more likely to do what we do.  Drawing that distinction is a chance for me to model the behavior I expect from her.

Safe and healthy choices are not always popular, especially among teens, but my policy of not drinking at all when driving has shown my daughter that friendship shouldn’t depend on what’s in your glass. My friends don’t argue or stop speaking with me and many of them have said something to the effect of “good for you!”

While I know that my adult friends don't come close to exerting the peer pressure that can be found in some groups of teens, it shows my daughter that saying “no” is okay. It illustrated what Ask, Listen, Learn Superstar Ashley Wagner said in her blog, “The best kind of friends want you to be true to yourself.”

That may not lessen the peer pressure she will feel in high school, but I’m hoping that she’s internalizing that your friends should support you in making healthy choices, and that she’s noting that alcohol is not necessary to have a fun time.

It’s also a chance to show her how to say “no.” I keep it short and sweet. I don’t make a big show, I don’t judge those who are drinking, and I don’t launch into a long explanation. I usually steer the conversation to something else pretty quickly.

“Kids shouldn’t go into lengthy or weak-sounding explanations,” explains Paul Coleman, a psychologist, family therapist, and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. “Answers like ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea… My parents wouldn’t like it…’ invite a debate, and your child’s resolve may weaken if the other person keeps trying to talk him into a drink.”

On the Ask, Listen, Learn page, “Help Them Say NO,” Coleman adds, “If he keeps saying no, he’s not as likely to be pressured as much or as regularly,” says Coleman. My daughter has seen that first hand, as many of my friends now know my no drinking when driving policy.

I realize that my daughter is 11 years old and five years away from getting her drivers license. I want to talk to her now about drinking in general as well as drinking and driving.  Talking about my choice to not drink when driving and why I made that choice is a good way to start that conversation. If kids hear that drinking and driving is unacceptable from you first and hear it repeatedly over time, you are framing how they view it. I believe that kids hear our voices in their heads, especially when they've heard you repeating information and stressing its importance.

For tips on how to start those conversations about drinking and what to say to your kids about alcohol, check out the tools and resources for parents available at

Shannan Younger is a writer living with her husband and tween daughter in the suburbs of Chicago. She writes about parenting adventures on the blog Mom Factually and on Tween Us at ChicagoNow.

 *The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( or any member.* 

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