When I was much younger than I am today, my parents would give me a shot of red wine with water to have at dinner. The assumption was that if they introduced me to responsible alcohol consumption early, I was less likely to drink excessively later on. It seems that nothing has changed since that time with a friend recently telling me that her teenager had been invited to an 18th birthday party where the parents were putting on whisky tasting including for the underage drinkers. In fact, a national survey of 12 to 17 year olds has found that parents are the most common source of alcohol for those who drank. The question is, with everything we know about alcohol now; is this sort of practice still right?
International data suggests introducing alcohol to teenagers isn’t a way to protect them. Indicating that the earlier a child is introduced to alcohol, the more likely they are to develop problems with alcohol later in life (National Center on Addition and Substance Abuse, 2002).
Since I was a child, researchers have also discovered that our brains are still developing up to the age of 25 and that alcohol can severely affect the brain’s development in a growing teen. This is contrary to the earlier belief that the brain forms during pregnancy and remains unchanged throughout childhood. Watch this excellent video from Turning Point that explains how the brain is affected.
So if you have children and are wondering how you deal with the issue of alcohol and your child, here is some advice from a number of Australian research and health organisations that have developed a set of guidelines. These guidelines have some practical steps including:
Delay your teenager’s introduction to alcohol – don’t offer them alcohol before they are 18.
Model responsible drinking and attitudes towards alcohol, including demonstrating to your children that alcohol isn’t essential to having a good time.
Talk to your child about alcohol and the risks of alcohol-related harms:
- choose a time when you are both relaxed rather than lecturing them when they aren’t in the right mood
- tailor the content and language to your own child and ask questions to make sure that they understand what you are saying
- explain the specific harms of alcohol use while their brain is still developing
- cover themes such as the positive and negative aspects of alcohol use
- encourage them to talk about their own perceptions and assumptions and correct any misconceptions
- communicate your expectations about their alcohol consumption
- if you can’t answer a question they pose, admit it and look for the answer from a reputable source.
Monitor your teenager when you are not around by staying in touch with their friends’ parents, and prepare them to deal with the influence of peers.
Establish family rules and consequences for breaching them.
There is further advice on talking about alcohol and other drugs with your teenager on the DrugInfo website.
As with many things in life, as we learn more about an issue we need to adapt our behavior. Laws are already changing to help support parents delay their children’s introduction to alcohol. Secondary supply laws have already been established in a number of states to ensure parents have a say about whether their child can drink on a private premises, such as at a friend’s house.
Share your view or experience with handling the teenage alcohol issue with other parents through posting a comment at the end of this article.