Author of Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs and director of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia.
Young people whose parents know where they are and who they’re with start drinking at a later age, tend to drink less and are less likely to develop problems with alcohol down the track. I always ask parents, ‘Can you tell me exactly where your son or daughter was at 10.30pm on Saturday night?’ and a big
chunk of them have no idea or they think they sort of know.
To reduce the risk of dangerous drinking in teens, the evidence indicates that a tough love parenting style is what works best. This means that you have rules and consequences, but they’re bound in unconditional love. Kids need to understand that every rule you make is because you love them and want them to be safe.
Parents often ask me, ‘Should I ever admit my mistakes with alcohol?’ I don’t think there’s any point sitting your child down specifically to discuss any slip-ups you made, but you need to plan what you’re going to say if they ask the question.
Parenting specialist and author of Saving Our Adolescents.
Many teens don’t want to drink but their friends are drinking. So when they’re caught in that situation, I advise them to be their friends’ secret guardian. I tell them to sit on one drink all night while watching out for their friends’ wellbeing. Teens think it’s a great idea because they still get to look cool in front of their friends, which satisfies their need to belong. You could also discuss scenarios they might need to draw their friends away from, like them getting into a car with a drunk driver or knowing what to do if a friend passes out. It’s about giving your teen the information to get them and their friends home safe.
I recommend parents move their alcohol into a locked cupboard in their bedroom. Parents say to me, ‘How does that demonstrate trust?’ but it’s not about trust, it’s about minimising the risk in your own home. All it takes is one friend to dare the others when you’re not there to supervise and all of a sudden, they’re all intoxicated. If they know there isn’t any alcohol in the house or that it’s locked away, they’ll quickly forget about it.
Often teens find it easier to turn to other people rather than their parents if they’ve drunk too much or found themselves in trouble, so they need what I call ‘significant lighthouses’ in their lives for these moments. These are people that know, love and believe in your children, such as aunts and uncles, grandparents, coaches or family friends. Your child needs to be reassured by your unconditional love, but tell them they should seek out these allies for help if they feel they can’t speak to you.
Parents should try to do everything they can to delay experimentation around alcohol, so you might need to say no to parties or social events where alcohol may be available to them.
Child and adolescent physiologist
Research shows that children who are allowed to taste alcohol under parental supervision around the age of 10 are more likely to drink at 14. Letting them taste or drink alcohol at home can normalise the behaviour, making them less likely to refrain from drinking when they’re out with friends. But just saying ‘no’ without explaining why can also give them a reason to rebel.
It’s really important to model a healthy relationship with alcohol by drinking occasionally and in moderation. It’s also crucial to think about the language you use in relation to alcohol. Saying things in front of your kids like, ‘I’ve had a bad day at work, I really need a drink,’ can make alcohol sound like an appropriate way to cope with stress, which it’s not.
Teens who are engaged in life are less likely to want to drink before their time, so keep them involved in activities such as sports, music or drama classes. Teens who participate in sporting groups, for example, are less likely to want to drink because they’re invested in looking after their bodies and won’t want to let themselves or their teammates down.
Kids often get the impression from adults or movies that being drunk is lots of fun. Explain that if they drink to excess not only are they going to feel terrible the next day, they’re going to be left wondering if they did something that may follow them around for a long time.
Photos: Mick Bruzzese/ Bauersyndication.com.au