How to talk to your TEEN about Underage Drinking

Alcohol has long been synonymous with Australian culture and consequently there really should be very little surprise that our teens are drinking beyond their capacity … and from a younger than desirable age.

Issues around underage drinking are of course not new, but with so much recent media coverage focused on alcohol-fuelled teen violence, it’s a social issue no longer able to be ignored. Parenting a teen is difficult enough under the best of circumstances, but when alcohol use is added to the equation … the hard job of parenting can get even more so.

The Australian site Drinkwise is where parents can be educated on some of the alarming statistics around adolescent alcohol use in Australia. Without being an alarmist, we, as parents, have reason to be concerned.

According to the data collected by Drinkwise, more than 25% of young Australians (aged between 12 and 19) drink to a dangerous level at least once a month. Binge drinking is quite the hobby for some of our youth and along with it, the potential for problems (both long and short term) is generally something adolescents don’t consider in their quest for a ‘good time’.

As parents, we need to keep aware of trending teen behaviours and habits so we can arm our kids with the knowledge and resources they need to safely trek their way through adolescence. Binge drinking is a significant and trending such behaviour. Over time I’ve worked with many young people who later regret how they acted under the influence. On most occasions their parents were either unaware of the extent of the alcohol assumption or assumed it was to be tolerated and even expected as a teen rite of passage.

When a teen decides to have a couple of drinks … with mates … at a party … they rarely think beyond the likelihood of a bad hangover. The potential for more serious and long term consequences is rarely considered as the sensible decision making part of the teen brain is not fully developed. Yet. Experts actually think this happens at around age 25, and so, yes, this does explain a lot.

It’s highly probable your teen will at some stage be exposed to the culture of underage drinking. They may possibly even make choices around this, which you are not entirely happy with. Although you may not be able to monitor your teen around the clock … you are able to have some influence on their attitude towards drinking through open and upfront conversation.

If you are wondering how to begin such conversations … about underage alcohol use … with your teen, here are five tips to provide you with a starting point.

1. Remind them of the laws around underage drinking in your state. Although age 18 is the ‘legal drinking age’ in Australia, each state and territory has different legislation regarding the provision of alcohol to minors and also it’s consumption. The Lawstuff site is an excellent resource for parents seeking information on teens and the law, presented in a no-nonsense way.

2. Discuss the actual alcohol content found in a range of drinks. Many teens do not realise the easy to drink soft drink like ‘alco-pops’ have a much higher concentration of alcohol than beer or wine coolers.

3. Have robust conversations about media reports concerning teens and alcohol. Recent changes to the liquor trading laws in NSW and unfortunate tragic events resulting from ‘King Hits’ are just two sobering topics of conversation.

4. Decide what’s your ‘bottom line’ when it comes to your teen and alcohol. Be very certain what your expectations are and communicate these clearly so your teen cannot doubt your stance.

5. Arm your teen with prepared scripts they can easily and confidently use to keep themselves safe if or when encouraged by others to drink irresponsibly.

The issue of teen alcohol use is unlikely to fall off a parent’s radar any time soon.

Significant shifts in the wider Australian culture will most likely be needed before teen attitudes to drinking can be greatly changed. Luckily though, the recent media focus on this issue is providing parents with ample opportunity to discuss this crucially important subject with their teen.

Has this been the topic of conversation in your house recently?

Avatar of Shari Brewer

Shari Brewer is a mum of three – two teens and a preschooler – living in Queensland. She’s a practicing high school teacher and lifecoach passionate about helping parents of teens. You can find her on the internet ... blogging and supporting parents at Teenage Survival Coach and hanging out on Facebook.

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