If you’re a parent who is worried that your child may begin drinking while still underage, you’re likely trying to figure out how to address it. There are, of course, conflicting opinions. Some say that telling your children they should never drink just makes it taboo so that they’re more curious. Others say that allowing children to drink doesn’t curb that curiosity, but just starts them down a path to potential abuse and addiction. What should you do?

Walking a fine line between lecturing and talking

Perhaps the best thing you can do is just to talk to your child about drinking. Telling the child that they can never drink until they’re 21 and then ending the conversation may make your intentions clear, but it may not be effective. Children are naturally curious. If you don’t answer those questions, who will they turn to? Will they try alcohol to find the answers themselves?

What you want to avoid, though, is making it into a lecture. Teens especially find lectures taxing and may actively try to do what they’re told not to do as a form of rebellion. That’s when denying alcohol can actually make use more likely.

Instead of lecturing, consider having many small conversations where you focus on answering questions and providing information. Make it an open conversation, where you and your child have plenty of chances to speak, rather than a lecture where you’re just talking at them.

If you do this, you can promote healthy drinking habits and legal adherence without just making them want to engage in underage drinking more than they already do. Show respect for your child and be willing to discuss these complex topics.

What if it happens anyway?

You also need to remember that even perfect parenting doesn’t mean a child will never drink. There are many factors in play, from peer pressure to their own personality. If they wind up in legal trouble, be sure you know what options you have. Charges at this age can have a drastic impact on a child’s future, and your family needs to know what you can do to protect that future.