How a Bartender and a Sommelier Suggest You Talk to Your Kids About Alcohol

These tips will help you turn a potentially awkward conversation into a productive one.

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The birds and the bees may be “the talk” parents are most worried about having with their children, but discussing alcohol can be just as emotionally fraught. Moms and dads want to clearly and concisely communicate the rules surrounding booze and the consequences of its abuse, but it can be difficult to craft a strong, informative message kids will heed.

To help out on what to say and do, we spoke with two stars in the DC area bar scene, both of whom are parents themselves: Todd Thrasher—the co-owner and bartender of Eat Good Food Group, which owns Restaurant Eve, Hummingbird, and PX cocktail bar—and Brent Kroll, founder and sommelier of Maxwell Park wine bar in Shaw.

Take the initiative

“Don’t wait for your kids to ask you questions,” advises Kroll. “Engage the child before they get confused by what they hear from other people. Transparency is the best way.”

Be responsible

The best way you can teach children about how to conscientiously enjoy alcohol is to model ideal behavior. “If they see how responsible people act, hopefully they will take a similar approach,” says Thrasher.

Don’t demonize

“A lot of parents simply say, ‘Don’t do it,’” says Thrasher. “What does that do? It makes kids want to try it.” Honestly explain why people enjoy it and your own experiences with it–both good and bad. When they’re old enough, consider giving them their first taste at home. “I suggest making it involve dinner and the family, so it’s in the context of hospitality,” says Kroll.

Don’t sugarcoat the downsides

At the very least, “You’ll feel like ass and make terrible decisions if you drink too much,” says Thrasher. Impress upon them that even just one bad choice can have a lifetime of consequences or be fatal, so they need to be mindful of how much they drink and how alcohol affects them.

Phone home

Tell your child that they can always call you for a ride, no matter how messed up they are, where they are, or what time it is. “You have to let us know if you need help,” Thrasher recommends saying. “I will come and get you. If you drive drunk or get in the car with a drunk driver, you are putting your life at risk, as well as the lives of countless other people. It isn’t worth it.”

Get a liquor cabinet

Thrasher recommends locking up the alcohol kept at your house. “Just because you and your kid have an understanding doesn’t mean their friends will be on the same page,” he says. Taking this precaution will help prevent your children from making poor decisions driven by peer pressure–and ensure your house doesn’t turn into the party scene from Sixteen Candles.

Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of eight books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their six-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.