Talk. Your Children Really Do Hear You.

If you are reading this, you likely play an integral role in helping young people succeed. On behalf of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), I want to thank you for your commitment to youth. I also want to warn you about underage drinking, a threat to our young people that we are paying special attention to at SAMHSA.

Underage drinking has been a longstanding, persistent problem—so much so that some have decided it’s just something children go through. Many have forgotten how seriously alcohol can undermine a young person’s life goals. Yet, research shows that underage drinking is associated with academic problems; unintended, unwanted, or unprotected sexual activity; drug use;injury or death from accidents;and alcohol can harm the developing brain. Further, people who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol problems as adults than those who begin drinking at 21 or older.

That is why SAMHSA, together with partners including the PTA, launched the “Talk. They Hear You.” underage drinking prevention campaign. The campaign empowers parents and caregivers to talk with their children as young as 9 years old about alcohol. It also helps parents be effective in these sometimes tough conversations with tools such as Start the Talk.


This campaign targets parents and caregivers because research shows they have a significant influence on young people’s decisions about drinking alcohol.

Believe it or not, your children listen to you. So it is important to talk with them early and often. Here are some conversation tips from our experts:

  1.  Show you disapprove of underage drinking.
  2. Show you care about your child’s happiness and well-being.
  3. Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol.
  4. Show you’re paying attention and you’ll notice if your child drinks.
  5. Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking.

There are many perfect opportunities to talk about alcohol—in the car, at dinner, while watching TV or doing chores. Try to make your talks short and low-key. You don’t have to get everything across in one talk.

If you want to do more to prevent underage drinking in your school and community, visit the “Talk. They Hear You.” website for presentation materials, PSAs, and parent resources you can adapt or use as they are. You can also consider joining the thousands of communities holding Town Hall Meetings on underage drinking this spring.

Whatever you do, know that on the issue of underage drinking, your voice truly matters.

Frances M. Harding serves as Director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), and is recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts in the field of alcohol and drug policy.

  • Bonnie, R. J., & O’Connell, M. E. (Ed.). (2004). Reducing underage drinking: A collective responsibility. Retrieved from Underage-Drinking-A-Collective-Responsibility.aspx.
  • Fergusson, D. M., & Lynskey, M. T. (1996). Alcohol misuse and adolescent sexual behaviors and risk taking. Pediatrics, 98, 91–96.
  • Tapert, S. F., Aarons, G. A., Sedlar, G. R., & Brown, S. A. (2001). Adolescent substance use and sexual risk taking behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health, 28(3), 181–189.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A Guide to Action for Educators. Retrieved from
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (October 2004). The NSDUH Report: Alcohol Dependence or Abuse and Age at First Use. Rockville, MD.
  • Nash, S. G., McQueen, A., & Bray, J. H. (2005). Pathways to adolescent alcohol use: Family environment, peer influence, and parental expectations. Journal of Adolescent Health, 37(1), 19–28.

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