54

So, recently my youngest brother (he's 16, I'm 26) had a party of a classmate. Mom and dad did allow him to go, and he did just fine. He lived by the rules, he sent a message when he arrived safely and one when he started the bicycle ride back, was home sort-of on time. He only missed one rule: No alcohol.

Mom and dad were tired, so I promised I would stay up to make sure my brother arrived safely home, or else wake them up. When he came home, he seemed off to me, but I brushed it off as him being sleepy. Yesterday, he confessed to me he had 3 beers at the party, and he wasn't sleepy but halfway drunk.

I didn't push him for that information, he told me out of the blue. I'm glad he thinks I can be trusted with the information, but at the same time, I was at a loss for words when he told me. Now that I've had some time to think about it, I feel like I should have a talk with him about this.

I don't know him as being an irresponsible person. Generally speaking, we can say that his friends weren't the most responsible people, and having drunk only 3 beers might have been quite the achievement when counting peer pressure.

He's 16, he's allowed a very occasional alcoholic beverage at home when there's a special occasion. But, he's not allowed to drink alcohol when he's not home. Especially not when he has to cycle home alone, on a road along a canal.

I'd like to have a talk with him about this, to express my worries and hopefully address some of the dangers he took, and make him realize he was being irresponsible, and that if mom and dad ever find out, he might well face serious consequences. At the same time, I want him to understand that I don't want to ruin his trust in me by telling my parents. I hope that by doing so, he feels confident to tell me next time something happens, when he's at a party with the wrong people, or even call me to pick him up when he's too drunk to safely get home.

But, I have no idea how to say this without either sounding like my mom, providing a sermon on irresponsible behavior, or sounding like I might run off to tattle-tale everything to mom and dad (I won't!).

What do I have to keep in mind when I want to have a fruitful talk about this with my brother?

Tiny disclaimer: Until a few years back, the legal age for drinking light alcoholic beverages like beer was 16 years in The Netherlands (so my oldest brother and me grew up being allowed to drink at 16), in 2014 it got raised to 18. My parents are allowing my brother to drink at home on special occasions, as far as I know this isn't illegal.

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    Nice question. I have two questions: How much younger is your brother than you (approximately), and what is the drinking culture like in the Netherlands? I only have a US-centric view of drinking, and nothing firsthand, but I don't know if teens drinking where you are are generally more responsible than teens drinking where I am. – HDE 226868 Dec 5 '17 at 17:05
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    Hmmm... I never had a first-hand experience with the underage drinking culture here, but I think one of the reasons the minimum age was raised was the high amount of teens that drunk themselves into a coma due to alcohol poisoning. Generally speaking, we can say that his friends weren't the most responsible people, and having drunk only 3 beers might have been quite the achievement when counting peer pressure. – Tinkeringbell Dec 5 '17 at 17:12
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    Why does "sounding like his mom" trouble you? Surely, you're more concerned with his well being than anything, and more than likely, the same is true of your mom. Why is it a problem if there's a parallel between what you say and what your mom would? – jpmc26 Dec 6 '17 at 14:04
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    @jpmc26 obviously, I'm not his mom. I can't set the rules he has to live by. I'm not his parent. Besides that, he generally doesn't react well to me 'sounding like mom'. By which he means that I come across as trying to parent him, to enforce rules on him. I don't want to give that impression at all, I just want him to think for himself. I don't want to enforce the rules on him, I just want to make clear to him these rules exist for a reason and that what he did was dangerous and that that is worrying me. – Tinkeringbell Dec 6 '17 at 14:15
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    @nic It was a 45 minute bike ride, I think at least 20 alongside the canal. There's a dedicated bicycle lane, but it's right beside the canal so yes, you can fall into it quite easily. – Tinkeringbell Dec 7 '17 at 9:23
28

I have a sister about three years younger than me, and from time to time over the past year we've had similar problems (albeit with less serious issues than drinking). There have been a couple of talks where I felt like she wasn't being as cautious as she should be, or where she'd fought with our parents and the argument hadn't reached a constructive conclusion.

That said, there are a few things that have helped me in the past.

1. You're on his side.

The first thing I'd make clear is that I'm on her side. I'm not just enforcing some arbitrary rule; I'm looking out for her safety. I know that parents say the same things sometimes, but it doesn't always carry the same weight. My sister's fought with my parents sometimes (as have I) because she couldn't understand that; in cases where I've said something, instead - well, it seems to get across better. We're alike enough, and we've been together since she was born, and that forms a bond. In plenty of cases, siblings don't like each other, and that can be a fact of life. But in others, there is a relationship that is different from a parent-child relationship. It might be easier than you think to make your brother think you're not talking down to him.

2. You're not enforcing rules for the sake of having rules.

The second thing to get him to understand is that there's a point behind the rules. When we're little - and I mean grade school age - a lot of rules seem arbitrary because we don't understand them. It's kind of hard to shake the belief that some rules are there just for the sake of having rules. Maybe your brother just sees the benefits of drinking - he thinks it's fun, for instance - and doesn't see the downsides of having three beers. To be honest, you don't even have to explicitly acknowledge "don't drink three beers irresponsibly" like a rule - more of a really, really, really good suggestion that he should really really really follow.

You don't have to quote statistics or tell him to watch anti-drinking videos; that's not going to get him to listen to you. But you could tell him, using common sense, why drinking that much unsupervised can be dangerous. Also, if you've had past experience with drinking - which I guess you haven't - you could also be in a position to say "Hey, I know what not to do". I like to say that the people that do best in interpersonal situations are the ones that have made mistakes in the past.

3. Address the future.

You want to help him, right? You want him to stay safe; after all, that's the whole point of having the rule in the first place. So, talk to him about what can you do in the future to keep him safe, or mitigate the consequences if he does do something dangerous.

  • Ask him to keep in touch with you (via phone), so you know he's okay. My sister's generally okay with this approach, but not everyone will be. Very few people want to be the uncool kid who has to keep checking in with his or her older sibling or parents, but he could do things discretely.
  • If you know someone in the group, or someone who will be around them, ask if they can monitor him/make sure he's okay.
  • Make sure he has water or something similar on his person, which can dilute alcohol and hopefully help mitigate the effects.
  • Know where he is planning to be, and maybe offer to pick him up. The worst thing that could happen is that he's both drunk and somewhere unknown.
56

You've made it pretty clear that you want to avoid alienating your brother from telling you these things in the future. To do so, focus on delivering a clear and concise message by getting your point across in a few sentences. You do not want to prepare a speech, because repeating information your brother already knows is likely to make you sound like a pseudo-parent.

You could casually mention some 'tips' for taking care of himself and gauging what he already knows by saying something like:

Dude (however you address him), if you ever drink more than that, you want to make sure you drink water before you fall asleep or you'll feel like crap in the morning.

or

If you drink more than that, do you make sure to drink water before you go to bed so you don't feel like crap the next day?

If you throw out casual tips, this earns his trust because you're sharing experienced advice with him (even if you don't drink much/often, it shows that you must still be knowledgeable enough to approach about it). Best of all, it opens the door for him to come to you if he ever finds himself in need of advice or help.

However, it's still probably important to tell him directly something along the lines of:

Hey/Also, now that I know you sometimes drink at parties, I just want to say that I'll always come get you if you need a ride. I'm never going to rat you out to Mom/Dad, but I do want to make sure you get home safe if you ever drink more than just a of couple beers.

I'm from the United States, but I've found that many of my friends parents who told them to "just call" regardless of if they felt they'd get in trouble, were much more likely to utilize them as a resource than those who didn't have that type of support. Telling your brother that you aren't going to get him in trouble, but you're just looking out for him, is a solid approach.

7

First off, you need to figure out what you are specifically concerned about. There are a few things you mention in the question:

  • Legality
  • Rules set by parents
  • Safety issues

There may be other things to consider: health, behavior (e.g. sex). Do you care about the law? You weren't subject to this law and I'm going to guess, having been a 16 year-old male, that he and his friends see this as a inherently unfair thing that has happened to their generation. In the US the drinking age is 21 and an overwhelming proportion of the population engages in underage drinking. Unfortunately, when the age limit on the drinking age is increased, the activity does not stop. Instead, it becomes more alluring as a badge of maturity and is driven underground such that there are no responsible adults around to manage and moderate the behavior of inexperienced drinkers. In other words, there's a distinct possibility that the drinking behavior of young in your country will become more irresponsible and dangerous than what you grew up with.

Do you care about your parent's rules around this? He knows that's their rule so do you think reiterating it will make a difference? I would avoid this line of disucssion.

It seems that your real concern is about safety. Giving him the privilege to have you pick him up any time is a great plan. I would even offer to get him some coffee and sober up if needed. I would also have a very frank talk about sex and drinking. This is something a big brother or big sister can do in a way that your parents never can. Talk protection (pregnancy and disease) as well as respecting women (assuming he is straight) and how to be a decent guy to them; especially when they are drunk. Make sure he understands your requirement of him that he survive this part of his life unscathed. Bad things can happen in these situations, as you know. This is where you should focus your efforts. The other issues are of little relative importance. It might be worth getting some details about someone who died or was maimed or ended up in serious legal trouble so he has a concept of what to avoid and how quickly things can spiral out of control. You won't be able to prevent him from drinking. All you can do is educate him.

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    @Catija: To be more specific: buying alcohol in the Netherlands is allowed to 18+, and not allowed below 18. Consumption in public places is not allowed below 18. But at home, or at a classmate's party if it is celebrated in their home, drinking alcohol is not illegal below 18. Riding a bike after drinking alcohol is not allowed (at any age), but I have never heard that a drunk cyclist was stopped by the police. – user9975 Dec 6 '17 at 14:03
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    @Catija That was pretty clearly specified in the question as well as the fact that the limit was 16 a few years ago. I'm not sure why you are pointing it out. – user1982 Dec 6 '17 at 16:10
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    @Catija What 'bold' factual statements have I made? I can find evidence as needed. I'm not sure there's anything controversial here. – user1982 Dec 6 '17 at 16:38
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    @Catija 33% in the past 30 days. That's not the same as saying that only 33% ever engaged in underaged drinking. And that's just high-school. 18, 19, and 20 year-olds drink too. The CDC also notes that 11% of all alchohol consumed in the US is consumed by underage people. That's close to their percentage of the population. It's hard to imagine that a 'minority' is drinking so much that they can make up for everyone else in their age group. – user1982 Dec 6 '17 at 17:05
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    ... yeah, you know 'cause everyone who drinks underage admits to it, right? - This is something a big brother can do in a way that your parents never can : be a good big brother. +1, but "some details about someone who died or" w/e isn't going to matter: 16yo is "I'm invincible; that can never happen to me" territory. – Mazura Dec 6 '17 at 23:36
4

1. Ask yourself why you feel the need to do anything?

You admit to drinking at the same age he is now, so why do you care that he does what you did? Did you have a bad experience? Do you think he's at risk of something awful? Personally, I'd simply let it slide. Loads of people in every country with a legal drinking age drink under age. For the majority there is no negative effect.

2. Talk to him about your own experiences

But, if you still want to go ahead, talk to him about your own experiences. What have you done when you've been drunk that you regret? What did you see other people do? Tell him honestly about it. He is more likely to respect your experiences than you repeating information he already gets from authority figures.

4

Let's get something out of the way before we get into what you should do: in some sense, you are trying to parent him.

A parent's responsibility to their child is to prepare them to survive and to thrive. Parents do this primarily by a combination of imparting knowledge and training them by enforcing boundaries. This is a good thing, both individually for the child and for the people they will interact with over their lives. What you want to do is participate in this process with your brother. This is also a good thing; it stems from your desire to see your brother succeed. Where you draw the line is an appropriate place as well: even though you wish to help your brother, you do not have the authority of a parent to decide and enforce boundaries.

So my first piece of advice is stop viewing "sounding like his mom" to your brother as a complete negative. In an ideal world, sounding like his mom just means you care about him and are trying to help him become the best person he can be. We'd all be better off if we could accept that from more people, especially those close to us.

To actually approach this issue with him, start with the facts:

Tell him how you feel.

Be honest with him. Tell him that what he did makes you worry about his well being. Maybe it even scares you a little bit. You seem to have a good relationship with him, so being open about how this made you feel is both a good step in deepening that relationship and in starting the conversation about what happened. This also frames the discussion in "I" terms. You're not just commanding him to do something; you're explaining how it affected you personally.

Find out what he thinks about the situation

Once you've told him how you feel about it, find out his thoughts. Does he think he should have done anything differently? Does he wish he hadn't drunk anything? Does he wish he hadn't ridden home on his bike? Avoid opening with direct questions about specific things you think he should have done differently; doing so will sound like you're interrogating him. Listen very carefully to how he responds to your feelings first, and use those responses as a springboard for trying to understand what he thinks about it all.

Talk about what he can do in the future

Once you have some idea what he thinks about it, then you can start talking about what to do in future situations. You've already made it clear that you want him to be able to call you for a ride if he ever gets in this situation again; now is a good time to make that offer to him. Assuming he agrees that there was some part of it he should have done differently, you'll probably need to talk about what happened and why he ended up doing something he didn't intend to do. If he wishes he hadn't drunk anything, you can try to come up with some ideas of how to say no under social pressure. If he wishes he had drunk less or that he hadn't ridden home, you could talk to him about strategies for controlling how much alcohol he drinks in these situations. The bottom line here is that you are aiming to understand what happened and help him come up with ideas about how it can be handled differently in the future.

If the conversation leads to it, talk about the dangers.

This is probably the point where it's easiest to fall into a "sermon" sort of approach. So my advice is don't plan to go there specifically. If a specific question comes up or it seems like there's something he doesn't understand, answer it or discuss that particular issue. Don't go into dangers that don't arise naturally from the conversation. If you feel the need to mention something he already knows or he seems to know something based on his responses, don't belabor the point. Just mention it and move on. Don't dwell too long on anything that comes up in this vein.

Don't mention telling your parents at all

There are two reasons you shouldn't mention this:

  1. If you steer the conversation as described above, I don't think you'll even give the impression that you might tell them. So there's really no need to even mention it; that would just make him consider the possibility of it happening.
  2. Presumably, there's some point of extremity at which you would tell them because they need to know and you all need to figure something out for his own benefit. You don't want to box yourself into a corner where now you have to decide between breaking a promise not to and doing something to help him.

Decide ahead of time what you're going to do if he doesn't want to talk about it

Before you even start this conversation, you need to decide what you're going to do if he doesn't want to have it. At any point of resistance, your options are:

  • Walk away without continuing the conversation.
  • Divert to a different point that he's more comfortable with
  • Press a little harder.

Decide now what line you won't cross if he resists talking about it. Will you before you tell him how you feel? Will you insist on telling him how you feel, but stop at trying to get what he thinks out of him? Decide what you'll whether you'll press the conversation or not at each point, and be prepared for that.

Remind him you love him

Give him a hug, or whatever you normally do with your family to express affection.

  • This was along my first lines of thought, except at 16 no one could bend my ear. At ~18 I started to come around, at least a little. IMO, 'kid needs to fall down all by themselves; ideally while they still have this support system in place. It's going to happen.... This answer is predicated on the assumption that this 16yo is ready to be 'an adult'. And if the parents haven't had 'the talk' yet, that's on them. – Mazura Dec 6 '17 at 23:30
  • @Mazura I don't think the OP really has another choice. She wants to give her help; she can only do that if he's willing to accept it in a mature fashion. If he won't, then she probably needs to leave the conversation and walk away if she doesn't have a way of pressing the issue effectively. – jpmc26 Dec 7 '17 at 2:01
2

This isn't a scientific answer but this is how my older brother handled the situation with me. Go to a place where you're likely to encounter drunk people that's fun. my brother used a sports game. Then make him aware of how the drunk people are acting. Hear something offensive? See how disheveled and disgusting the bathroom has become? See someone just having trouble walking or just generally out of control? Point all that out. Still at the same time keep it fun and not lecture like, you'll be at a fun place after all. Then when you get back home, maybe later that evening find a time when its just the two of you, and bring up the most absurd thing you saw that day. Like man did you see the guy that was so drunk he was slurring his speech and called his wife a whale? People make some really stupid choices with alcohol. Its easy too man, you really gotta be careful with this stuff.

For me this provided basically a mini scared straight moment. Couple things I think my brother did really well, make sure you treat your brother as an equal capable of making his own choices. Make sure you let him know that he is the one who defines his relationship to booze, but also make sure you provide him with a real tangible example of someone who's made the wrong choice with regards to it.

1

Carrot or stick? Punishments and/or authority do not work very well on rebellious teenagers.

If he comes home not drunk, there will be a prize (like 20€ or something). This is strictly between you and him, no need to inform the parents. It's a little bonus to compensate for the "fun" he missed by not being drunk.

You can also make a deal: you'd cover for him occasionally if he really needs it, but only if he's reasonable enough.

You could inquire why he drank alcohol. Was it because everyone else did? Encourage him to observe the effect on others, that can be quite spectacular... Was it for the fun? While drinking a little bit can increase the fun, too much will spoil the evening (and the next day).

If he never got drunk and learned the feeling of a massive hangover, maybe he doesn't know that!

If you wish to provide some education, you can always elaborate about some of the risks of cycling home while drunk near canals or traffic, or mention what young ladies think of the one who throws up due to excessive binge drinking... it ain't sexy.

  • Sadly, while throwing up due to binge drinking isn't sexy, it still seems to be more attractive then being the guy who doesn't drink. – Erik Dec 6 '17 at 12:27
1

Since no other answer touched the most important part (in my opinion) of this question , I will give it a shot:

He was drunk (or not sober) driving

Even if it is just a bike in many countries there are very strict laws regarding this (for example in Austria the police can take away your driving license when they catch you drunk on a bike). Also insurance will most likely not pay if there is an accident etc.

I personally think having a few beers at a party with 16 is not a big problem. On the other hand it is totaly not okay to endanger others while driving drunk. You should make this totally clear. Tell him he should have walked home or if it is too far for him - he should have stayed sober.

Otherwise I dont think there is much you can do, except beeing a good/responsible example (you would be suprised how much younger siblings follow your example, even if they would never admit it).

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    While I agree that one shouldn't participate in traffic while drunk, I can tell you from experience that riding a bike in general is not seen as endangering others but rather endangering yourself, especially when you do it drunk. Traffic laws in the Netherlands explicitly protect "weak" traffic participants, including bikes. Anyway, in a country where some people learn to ride a bike before they can properly walk, you will not easily convince someone not to get on their bike after a measly 3 beers. The main reason for most to leave the bike is when you physically can't get on it anymore. – oerkelens Dec 6 '17 at 12:26
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    Sure, it is much better to drive a bike drunk than a car. But it is a simple rule which "makes sense": Dont drive (anything) drunk. So maybe this makes more sense to him than: "hey you can go to the party but dont drink beer, even if everybody else is doing it." – HectorLector Dec 6 '17 at 17:53
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    @oerkelens Such point of view is bigger problem than a 16year old having 3 beers. Any intoxicated participant of traffic endangers not only himself but everyone. Especially, in presence of laws protecting the weak participant, an intoxicated biker or walker forces others to take evasive action in order to protect him, which can cause harm to other people. – Agent_L Dec 7 '17 at 12:14
1

Yesterday, he confessed to me he had 3 beers at the party, and he wasn't sleepy but halfway drunk.

I didn't push him for that information, he told me out of the blue

From this I can tell your brother wanted some kind of feedback from you. Maybe it was his first time drinking beer without parental consent. Maybe he felt guilty or maybe he was seeking approval. Or perhaps it was something he was that proud of that he felt he needed to say. Note however that if he was halfway drunk he might have drank more than 3 beers.

How can I express my concerns about my underage brother drinking alcoholic beverages to him without sounding like I'm his mom?

Is your goal to express your concerns, or is your goal to safeguard your brother from drinking too much and falling into the canal? They are different goals, and you can change behaviors of others without verbally expressing your concerns.(Sometimes expressing your concern to someone, like you're their mom, can have the opposite effect when they feel their freedom is threatened. This phenomenon is also known as "reactance".)

Two concepts that are important:

  1. Attitude: If your brother has a positive attitude towards alcohol he is more likely to binge drink. Positive attitudes come from positive feelings and thoughts. If your brother associates alcohol consumption with being cool or being an adult or belonging to his peers, then he is more likely to drink. If his peers drink a lot he is more likely to do so. When his parents allowed him to drink at a young age, he is more likely to drink, because of the perceived harm reduction.

To change his attitude you should make him aware that it is not cool to drink. You could for example quit drinking yourself which sends a strong message that drinking is not something which makes you a better person. You can verbally express that drinking is not something that makes you a grown-up. You do not have to address your brother directly.

  1. Ability: Besides inducing opposing attitudes, your brother should have the ability to change his behavior. If all of his friends drink a beer each hour, he's likely to succumb. You could give your brother hints to drink a soda first before starting to drink beer. This will sent a message to his friends that he chooses to drink what he likes, and they can choose whatever they want to drink themselves. The feeling of empowerment will make him more in control and a create a positive attitude towards controlling his drinking behavior. You can show this behavior yourself to him whenever you go to a terrace or bar. Or tell him directly when you were with your friends that you told them "I'm not drinking tonight." Then your friends started nagging "Why are you not drinking?" you stood tall and said "I don't feel like it" and just switched the topic. This way you can communicate to your brother skills of how to be in control of his own behavior without directing your brother's behavior directly. Tying positive consequences to performing the behavioral skills increases the motivation and likelihood of performing the skills thereby strengthening them.

Also, you should know that this problem might solve itself over time. At age 16 people want to experience stuff. They may have difficulty to control their behavior, and may have difficulty to say no. You can support him by giving him to tools to perform more mature behavior, and expressing the values you hold which your brother of course is allowed to disagree with.

Disclaimer: I don't know your brother. These are just general tips. For better help you might want to check out health care organizations.

  • A less judgemental way is to say something like "3 beers is a lot if you're cycling home afterwards, it's best to stick to one beer unless you have a sober ride home pre-arranged." – arp Jan 27 '18 at 23:25

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