Educating kids about alcohol

Family around bbq

Despite the effects of peer pressure, research shows that how you communicate with your teens about alcohol strongly influences how they behave.

report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies revealed that parents' beliefs about adolescent drinking and the way they communicate those standards has an important influence on how their teenagers view alcohol. 

When parents disapprove of adolescent drinking, teens are likely to consume less, and are less likely to engage in binge drinking. 

When parents tolerate or approve of adolescent drinking, young people are more likely to drink and also to binge. 

Research also showshow and when you communicate with your child about alcohol can make a huge difference in how they're able to respond to peer pressure to drink.

Delaying the age when your child takes their first drink isn't just a matter of staying within the law, it's now known that alcohol can interrupt the brain's development and leave teens with permanent damage.

Young people whose parents disapprove of teenage drinking tend to delay when they have their first drink of alcohol or drink less or less often.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when discussing alcohol with your child.

  • Be firm, clear and consistent with your message. If you tell your child one day not to drink at parties, but then at other times you offer them alcohol at home, you're sending confusing messages. It's either okay for them to drink or it's not okay – it can't be both. The evidence says drinking before the brain is fully developed sets our children up for a lifetime of difficulties.
  • Listen to your child's point of view without interrupting or being judgemental.
  • Choose your time to talk when they are most likely to be open to the discussion. For example, if your child is angry, or intoxicated they will not be able to discuss the issue rationally. Wait for a better time.
  • Know their friends' parents and communicate your view on underage drinking (pdf 630 KB) to them. Despite what your teen may say, you are not "the only parents who don't let their kids drink" and you can confidently point this out to your child if you've spoken to other parents about it.
  • Prepare them for peer pressure. From an early age discuss how they can refuse alcohol, cigarettes or drugs without looking lame to their friends. Your child will be more likely to make good choices if they've already thought through how they'll handle being pressured into drinking by well-meaning friends. Before they go out, discuss them what responses might work, such as:  "I can't, I'm working tomorrow morning" or "I don't feel like it just at the moment". 
  • Remind them it's easy to "lose" unwanted drinks that are given to you at a party, simply put it down and move away.

  • One strategy is to keep a glass of soft drink in hand and say you "already have a drink, thanks"– no one can tell by looking at it if there's a clear spirit mixed in.

  • Warn your teen to never leave a drink unattended, in case of spiking. If they put it down and aren't watching it closely, leave it and get a fresh one. 

  • When you child does reach the legal age to drink alcohol, make sure they understand standard drink sizes (pdf 634 KB) and the health risks of binge drinking. 

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