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What to Say to your 16-18 Year Old

10th to 12th Grade

Neil I. Bernstein, Ph.D., offers tips for guiding your child through grades 10-12.

Conversations are one of the most powerful tools parents can use to connect with – and protect – their kids. But when tackling some of life’s tougher topics, especially those about drugs and alcohol, just figuring out what to say can be a challenge. The following scripts will help you get conversation going with your 16 to 18 year old.


Your teen is starting high school – and you want to remind him that he doesn’t have to give in to peer pressure to drink or use drugs.

What to Say

You must be so excited about starting high school. It’s going to be a ton of fun, and we want you to have a great time. But we also know there’s going to be some pressure to start drinking, smoking pot or taking other drugs. A lot of people feel like this is just what high school kids do. But not all high school kids drink! Many don’t, which means it won’t make you weird to choose not to drink, either. You can still have a lot of fun if you don’t drink.

You’ll have a lot of decisions to make about what you want to do in high school and you might even make some mistakes. Just know that you can talk to us about anything – even if you do make a mistake. We won’t freak out. We want you to count on us to help you make smart decisions and stay safe, okay?


Your high-schooler comes home smelling of alcohol or cigarette smoke for the first time.

What to Say

“The response should be measured, quiet and serious – not yelling, shouting or overly emotional,” says parenting expert Marybeth Hicks. “Your child should realize that this isn’t just a frustrating moment like when he doesn’t do a chore you asked for; it’s very big, very important; and very serious.”

Say, “I’m really upset that you’re smoking/drinking. I need to get a handle on how often this has been happening and what your experiences have been so far. I get that you’re worried about being in trouble, but the worst part of that moment is over – I know that you’re experimenting. The best thing you can do now is really be straight with me, so for starters, tell me about what happened tonight…”


Your teen has started to hang out with kids you don’t know and dropped his old friends.

What to Say

It seems like you are hanging out with a different crowd than you have been in the past. Is something up with your usual friends? Is there a problem with [old friends’ names] or are you just branching out and meeting some new kids? Tell me about your new friends. What are they like? What do they like to do? What do you like about them?

(Source: Partnership for Drug-Free Kids)

Other Things To Remember

During these years, rebelling against parental figures is routine. Teens readily give the impression that they don’t respect their parents’ opinions. But—surprise—psychologists have discovered that they actually do. And it’s crucial for parents and guardians to keep that in mind when they discuss alcohol with them.

You’ll probably find that conversations will take place on the teen’s terms—at whatever moment they will give you their attention. It would be wise to create opportunities for these talks. Perhaps a long drive, when the teen doesn’t have to look at you directly, or during dinnertime, or right before the teenager goes to bed. Ideally, they’ll take place when you’re both in a good mood.

Tips On How To Say “No”

Saying “no thanks” to friends can often be difficult, especially for teens. Practicing responses with your teen can help build his or her confidence and prepare them for sticky situations. Rehearse a series of responses, from a simple refusal to a more concrete reply. Keep responses short, clear and simple as vague excuses tend to prolong the discussion. Try this script with your child: • No, thanks, I don’t want to.

  • (I hear you…) but I don’t want a drink, thank you.
  • No, I am not in the mood to drink.
  • No, thanks, I’m already having a good time.

And if words fail, advise your teen to walk away.