Approaching a discussion with your teenager about alcohol can be a minefield, but it is important that they are armed with the right information. 67% of 13-17 year olds who drink alcohol say they drink because it makes social gatherings more fun1. One of the main drives of adolescence is to form new social bonds away from family so it is easy to see how drinking alcohol could be appealing because young people may feel as if they are fitting in and not being left out.
When it comes to social gatherings at someone else’s house, trust your instincts and check things out. A get-together, with easy access to alcohol and no supervision, is potentially a bad combination2. Parents can be told that everybody is going, “I would be the only one not allowed to go if you said no” and although this may be the perception of your child, the reality may be something different.
If you agree that your child can go to the party:
- Explain to your child that, if they are still under 18 and under your care, you are going to speak to the host parent and check what the plans are for serving alcohol and supervision of alcohol
- If possible, talk to other parents and ask if they are going to allow their child alcohol to take to the party. A party is less likely to get out of hand if the alcohol available is limited to what has been arranged and supervised by the party host
- Talk to older siblings, if you suspect that your younger child might ask an older sibling to buy them alcohol to take to the party. Remind them that if they do this, it could be classed as a proxy purchase which is against the law.
Make it clear that if you have agreed with your child that they will not take any alcohol from home without your permission, you would regards this as stealing.
Remember to agree plans about alcohol with your child before they go to the party. If they then decide to go against their word, explain what the consequence will be.
It is worth spending time discussing and planning with your child on how a party could work out successfully. Although teenagers may want to be left on their own, it is reasonable for you to be at the party venue, but maybe not in the same room. Knowing that a parent or responsible adult are around and available may stop their friends overstepping the mark. You could also use older siblings to monitor the party to keep events under control.
- Decide how much alcohol is age appropriate and within CMOs’ guidelines and stick to the plan.
- Talk to parents of other children about whether there will be alcohol or not. If you are, let them know what alcohol and how much will be served so they can decide if they are comfortable having their child come to the party
- Check that other children coming to the party are not bringing any additional alcohol to your house. Be aware of alcohol being smuggled in (potentially in plastic water bottles)
Parents can have a very positive influence through their own approach to alcohol. Rules are different from family to family when it comes to drinking alcohol. Role model an approach to your regular drinking habits that you would like your child to copy. Research shows that riskier drinking behaviours by parents are reflected more often in the behaviour of their children3.
Give them information and facts. During adolescence a young person’s brain is changing, as a result they are learning to make more decisions for themselves. By giving the information about the risks and consequences of drinking alcohol and supporting them in making their own decisions you will help them to become independent and take responsibility for themselves.
Have on-going conversations about alcohol Teenagers tend to respond badly to lectures or rules which they see as unreasonable/unfair. So make sure that you approach talking about alcohol as a general discussions rather than one-sided lectures.
Boundaries are a vital part of healthy child development. It can be hard to impose a structure or boundaries, either for fear of unpopularity or because of an aversion to confrontation or discipline. Reassure yourself that the result of a child with no clear limits or safety net is unpredictability, anxious and unable to self-police. Be aware, teenagers do not exhibit the sedative effects of alcohol in the same way as adults do so it is easy to look at them and think they have not had as much to drink as they have4.
Be honest. It’s far better to confess, for example, that “yes, I drank at your age – and I regret the times when I did drink”. If I knew then what I know now, I would have stuck to the lower risk guidelines”. If their questions get uncomfortable, say so and talk about that.
Make it clear that their health and safety is vital to you. The UK Chief Medical Officers (CMO) recommend that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. If children do drink alcohol underage, it should not be until at least the age of 15 years.
If 15 to 17 year olds do consume alcohol, they should limit it to no more than one day a week. Young people aged 15 to 17 years should never exceed the recommended adult weekly alcohol limits (no more than 14 units a week) and, when they do drink, they should usually drink less than that amount.
This content has been provided to Drinkaware by Janey Downshire co-author of the book Teenagers Translated, an organisation who provide training courses for parents and schools.