The relationship young people have with alcohol is strongly influenced by Australia’s culture. Our culture normalises the consumption of alcohol creating a relaxed attitude towards alcohol and the view that it is not harmful. This culture also influences how young people view alcohol.
Alcohol is regularly consumed and promoted at places where children play and socialise, and where adults socialise accompanied by their children. This can include visiting licensed premises, or at get togethers with adults drinking alcohol. Experts advise that this normalisation of alcohol sends a message that alcohol is not harmful, which can encourage favourable attitudes towards alcohol use.1
Viewing alcohol as something that is not harmful can encourage young people to drink at an earlier age and aspire to be part of the general drinking culture they see around them, which includes harmful alcohol consumption. 2
Evidence tells us that what you do as a parent, how you communicate your expectations and whether you supply alcohol does affect your child’s choices about alcohol. As a parent you can influence your child’s behaviour and choices about alcohol by doing the following: 3
Avoid providing alcohol to your children.
It is within your control not to supply alcohol for your child to consume within the home or in other settings, even if you are feeling pressured by your child or other parents.
The NHMRC alcohol guidelines provide a clear message that for under 18s, no alcohol is the safest choice.
Advise other parents about your expectations for your child about alcohol.
Talk to other parents and let them know that you do not want them to provide alcohol to your child under any circumstances.5 This is especially relevant when teenagers are going to friends’ houses for parties.
Be aware of places and situations where your child may be exposed to people drinking alcohol.
Research shows that teenagers who are poorly supervised begin drinking at an earlier age, tend to drink more and are more likely to develop risky or high risk drinking patterns. 4
Be sure that your child understands that they need to keep in touch with you about where they are, and to seek your permission to be there. Also reach an agreement on what time they need to come home, and what will happen if they break the rules.
Discuss alcohol with your child from an early age and explain your expectations about alcohol.
What to discuss with your child?
Parents of teenagers will no doubt be well aware of how easily a discussion can start out amicably, but end up heated, leaving both parent and teenager wondering how it got to this point.
If possible start conversations about alcohol early in your child’s life. This sets you up for easier discussions during teenage years and means they should already be aware of what your attitudes and expectations are about alcohol. This also builds respect and good communication which will help you work through more specific issues as they grow older.5
Some important points to consider when talking to your child:
Your child’s brain is in a development phase and they may have trouble expressing what they mean. Try not to take things they say personally, stay calm and stick to the subject.
Listen to what they have to say and don’t interrupt. You can try checking that you heard correctly by repeating key points back to them.
Pick the right time to talk, such as when you are in the car, on a walk with them, or waiting at an appointment.
If something happens and they are drunk or they have broken your agreed rules, leave the discussion until an appropriate time after the event.5
Remember that communication is a two way process and it is important that your child has an opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions.
If you need some support when it comes to talking with your child about alcohol you can call the Parent Drug Information Service. This is a free 24-hour statewide telephone information and support service for parents and families.
Perth metro: (08) 9442 5050
Country toll free: 1800 653 203
For more tips on communicating with young people see the Young People and Alcohol booklet.
Parents as role models - consider how you use alcohol.
Your child is learning about how alcohol is used, from the world they live in, and the people that play significant roles in their life.
If you drink alcohol, you need to be aware that your child will learn their attitudes from the way you use alcohol and how much you drink. Showing your child that life can be fun and have meaning when alcohol is not involved can help to shape a responsible approach to alcohol.
For example, show them that alcohol does not have to be part of every social event (such as at school functions and barbeques). Drinking at low risk levels when you do drink (in the family home for example) may also encourage your child not to drink at all, or to use alcohol in a low risk way when they get older. 5
Find out if alcohol and other drug education is being taught at your teenager’s school.
Health and Physical Education is a compulsory learning area in all schools and there are a number of student outcomes that teachers need to meet in this area. Teachers have access to a wide range of subject matter to meet these outcomes, and they do not necessarily need to include alcohol and other drug education in their curriculum.
Teaching about alcohol and other drugs at school is an important part of a comprehensive approach to enable your child to make informed healthy choices about alcohol and other drug use.
If alcohol and other drug education is being taught, find out what your children are learning so you are able to provide accurate information in discussions with your child and to support what is being taught at school.
If alcohol and other drug education is not being taught at your child’s school you can approach the parent representative of the School Management Council to express your view about how important it is to have alcohol and drug education as part of the school curriculum.
Discover more information on what your child is learning about alcohol and other drugs in their year group here.
1 Toumbourou. J (Professor and Chair in Health Psychology at Deakin University), unpublished 2010.
2 Roche, A., Bywood, P., Borlagdan,J., Lunnay, B., Freeman, T., Lawton, L., Tovell, A., and Nicholas, R. (2007). Young people & alcohol: the role of cultural influences. National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction, Adelaide
3 Allsop, S. (2012). How to set teens up for a healthy relationship with alcohol. Retrieved from http://theconversation.edu.au/how-to-set-teens-up-for-a-healthy-relationship-with-alcohol-7370
4 Commissioner for Children and Young People, Speaking out about reducing alcohol-related harm on children and Young People, Western Australia, 2011, http://www.ccyp.wa.gov.au/files/Speaking Out About Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm.pdf
5 Department for Communities Office for Youth and Drug and Alcohol Office. (2007). Young People and Alcohol. Government of Western Australia.
Call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024 toll free for country callers
For emergencies call the 000 emergency line.