Parents

Adolescents and alcohol – Why do parents matter?

 

What you do and say as a parent can make a real difference in the development of your teens attitude towards alcohol. Understanding the important role you play as a parent can help you to influence your child’s drinking behaviours and strengthen family values.

The teenage brain and alcohol

 

While different parts of our brain develop at different rates and whether we are male or female (sorry men, but you typically take longer to mature), it is not until we are approximately 25 years old that our brain is fully developed. This means that a teenager’s brain is going through some major constructions as they develop and improve important pathways and systems. Introducing alcohol during this sensitive period of development can cause major damage and change the wiring in a teens brain.

Alcohol intoxication on the brain causes short and long-term damage to an adolescent’s:

Brain functionality

How well the brain works

Brain structure

The physical makeup of the brain

Let’s take a look

 

These are the areas that continue to develop during adolescence.
Hover over the markers for more information.

There are three areas of the brain that continue to develop during adolescence:

Prefrontal cortex

Responsible for things like complex planning, rational decision making, personality expression and impulse control. Damage to the prefrontal cortex can have life-long consequences for teenagers’ personality and behaviour.

Amygdala

Responsible for our flight or fight instinct, the amygdala plays a key role in our fear response. Changes caused by alcohol during adolescence can increase teens susceptibility to depression and anxiety later in life.

Hippocampus

Responsible for memory and learning, damage to this area of the brain can affect a teens capacity to learn and remember new information for the rest of their life.

Did you know…

 

Adolescents who drink heavily tend to have a smaller prefrontal cortex and hippocampus than their peers who do not drink.

The safest option for teens is to drink NO alcohol

Consider the conversation

As a parent, it is important to have open lines of communication with your child. Having high quality conversations with you teen not only strengthens family relationships but makes it easier for them to come to you in times of trouble. As your teen matures and is exposed to new and exciting experiences it is only natural for them to become curious about alcohol and alcohol specific discussion are important.

Consider the do’s and don’ts

Ask open ended questions

Avoid yes or no responses. For example try saying “If your friends wanted to drink how would you handle that?” instead of “do any of your friends drink?”.

Have two-way conversations

Make sure that you are listening as much as you are speaking.

Look for trigger conversation starters

Alcohol commercials, news stories featuring alcohol, tv programs, etc.

Be available

Make opportunities for your teen to start a conversation with you. For example, take them grocery shopping with you, walk the dog together, give them lifts, and do the dishes together.

Be clear about expectations

Don’t assume that your teen knows how you feel about underage drinking. Clearly communicate your expectations and devise a set of family rules and consequences in relation to alcohol.

Rush the conversation

Avoid having a conversation about alcohol as they are walking out the door with their friends.

Lecture your teen

Have a conversation with your teen as opposed to lecturing them. Tell them how you feel and ask them their thoughts as well.

Let your emotions take over

If you are mad or upset then perhaps save the conversation for a later time when you have cooled down.

Make accusations

If you suspect your teen is drinking, rather than accusing them by saying “I know you have been drinking” ask them “Why do I smell alcohol on your breath?”.

Consider the content

What can we talk about?

 

  • Discuss alcohols harmful effects on the teenage brain
  • Ask what your teen’s views on alcohol are
  • Plan ways to handle peer pressure
  • Discuss alcohol specific rules and consequence

Family expectations

Does your teen know what your attitude towards underage drinking is? Do they know what you expect of their behaviour and what they in turn can expect of you as their parent? Are they clear on what the consequence of any misbehaviour is?

 

Developing and communicating clear alcohol focussed family expectations with your teen is a good way to ensure that they know exactly how you feel about underage drinking without any hinting or assuming.

Restrictive attitudes

 

Adolescents whose parents communicate a clear disapproval for underage drinking are:

 

  • Drinking less
  • Less likely to hang out with friends who drink
  • More confident in their ability to say no to alcohol

The family agreement

 

A family agreement is a devised set of family expectations regarding alcohol. Creating the family agreement with your teen is a great way to facilitate conversations regarding alcohol. It also provides your teen with a sense of ownership and accountability as they are made a part of the decision making process. While we have provided you with some ideas, the template is customisable to suit your individual teen and unique family environment.

Some common questions

 

Is alcohol really that bad?

The short answer is YES. Alcohol causes more deaths in the teenage population than all other drugs combined as it contributes to the 3 leading causes of death among teenagers; injury, homicide and suicide. It is also associated with violence, risky sexual behaviour, academic failure, road accidents and risk taking.

When should I give my teenager their first drink?

The longer you can delay your child’s drinking the better. This gives their brain a better chance to reach its maximum potential and reduces their chances of experiencing alcohol related harm later in life. Importantly, providing your teen with alcohol undermines important messages about the unacceptability of underage drinking.

My teen is having a party. Should I allow alcohol?

It is important to consider both the health consequences and the law in your state or territory. In most parts of Australia it is illegal for anyone but the parent or guardian to supply alcohol to a minor, even on private property. But even then there must be ‘responsible supervision’ of the minor and given the number of factors that determine whether the level of supervision provided is sufficient, the safest option to avoid breaking the law is to supply no alcohol.

 

If you choose to not allow alcohol make sure you discuss your concerns with your teen and ensure they understand your reasoning. This way they feel they have been listened to and that you respect their point of view as well.

My teen has been drinking. What do I do?

  • Remain calm and do not let your emotions take over
  • Avoid accusations (i.e. ‘why do I smell alcohol on your breath’ as opposed to ‘I know you’ve been drinking’)
  • If your child is still drunk wait until they are sober before you speak with them
  • Ask them why they have been drinking
  • Discuss the harms associated with underage drinking
  • Discuss your expectations with them and attach consequences to their behaviour
  • Help them to come up with strategies for future situations where they may be exposed to alcohol
  • Seek professional help if needed

Have a question not answered here?

Five facts about parents and underage drinking you need to know

Why do teenagers drink?

Peer pressure

 

The number one reason that teens drink is peer pressure. The desire to ‘fit in’ and social pressures from peers are often hard for teens to ignore. When it is someone in their peer group offering the alcohol simply saying ‘no’ is not always easy.

 

Prepare your teen for peer pressure by coming up with answers they feel comfortable saying in situations where they feel pressured to drink.

A group of friends sitting on a railing by the sea

Here are a few responses for your teen to consider:

 

A number of different responses for a teen not wanting to drink

Self-medication

 

The teenage years are often highly emotional and overwhelming. Some teens may use alcohol to cope with academic or social stress or to alleviate feelings of anxiety or depression. Healthier alternatives to balance your teens mind and body include maintaining a healthy diet, participating in regular physical activity, getting a good night’s sleep, practising mindfulness techniques and confiding in a close friend or adult.

 

However, sometimes these home remedies may not be sufficient and your teen should seek professional support to help them overcome anxiety and depression.

 

View a range of professional services available to your teen here.

Woman drinking from a beer bottle

Misinformation

 

As teens navigate their way through life, the influential environment (friends, culture, advertising) heavily influences their drinking perceptions. Teens often believe that more people their age are drinking alcohol than actually are. They may also get misinformation from various sources such as friends who assure them that drinking alcohol is perfectly safe. Minimise the risk of misinformation by educating your teen on the facts about alcohol use and its effects on teenagers.

Clinking glasses of beer together.

Because it’s fun

 

If a teen is bored they are more likely to consider alcohol usage as a fun option. Not only does alcohol give teens something to occupy their time with but it provides a social activity where they can interact and bond with their friends. Have your teen consider what else they could do for fun besides drinking. Most cities have a range of free activities, social groups and sporting clubs for teenagers to join.

People having fun, drinking at a night club.

Does your teen need some fresh ideas on how to occupy their leisure time?

 

A collage of other things to do besides drinking

Rebellion

 

Teenagers often like to push boundaries and may choose to drink as a way to rebel against rules.

Graffiti of a woman wearing sunglasses.

What can you do if your teen is going through a rebellious streak?

 

Don't be too strict

Stay firm on important expectations such as your disapproval of underage drinking, but as your teen grows older you may choose to relax a few rules to support and encourage independence (e.g. extended curfew).

Give your teen some space

Just like everyone else teens need their own privacy and space to build independence, trust and self-confidence, unwind after school or even just have private conversations with friends.

Avoid being too judgmental

Avoid being too critical of changes in your teens behaviour or appearance as they begin experimenting and exploring with their identities (e.g. changes in room décor, new hairstyles, relationships or fashion choices).

For confidence

 

A major appeal of alcohol is its ability to give an otherwise shy or self-conscious teenager the confidence and courage to do things they would not normally be comfortable doing, such as dancing at a party or talking to someone of the opposite sex.

A boy and girl hugging and laughing.

So how can you help your teen to find courage and confidence without alcohol?

 

  • Be a role model when it comes to self-confidence
  • Encourage your teen to try new things
  • Teach your teen to develop healthy self-talk and positive mantras
  • Practice social skills
  • Praise and encourage your teens efforts and accomplishments

Curiosity

 

Teens may begin experimenting with alcohol simply because they want to know what it feels like. Curiosity and experimentation is a normal part of teenage behaviour and having discussion about the dangers of alcohol can help to diminish its attractiveness.

A few glasses of beer

Where to get help

 

Are you concerned about your child’s drinking or seeking additional advice? There are a range of professional services available throughout Australia that offer support to you or your child.

DrugInfo

1300 858 584

 

A confidential, non-judgemental telephone and email information and referral service for anyone seeking help for their own or another person’s alcohol or drug use.

Family Drug Support Australia

1300 368 186

 

A telephone support service for users, families and carers in crisis due to alcohol and other drug use.

National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline

1800 205 015

 

Provides confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs to individuals, family and friends, general practitioners, health professionals, and business and community groups. The hotline will automatically redirect you to the Alcohol and Other Drug Information Service operating in your state or territory.

Parentline

1300 301 300

 

Provides confidential and professional telephone counselling and support for parents and carers of children. You can talk to their qualified counsellors about anything to do with challenges you’re facing as a parent or issues affecting your family.

Lifeline

13 11 14

 

A confidential telephone crisis support service available 24/7 provided by trained volunteers who are ready to listen, provide support and referrals.

Kids Helpline

1800 551 800

 

Free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.

Alcohol trivia game

 

How much do you know about alcohol? Grab your teen and test your knowledge in the Alcohol Trivia game. Do you have what it takes to win the million dollars?

Blurred Minds Community Parent Program

 

The program consists of a 1-hour session for parents which is delivered face-to-face. Developed to be interactive and engaging, the session consists of activities that allow parents to participate in group discussions in an informal and relaxed atmosphere.

 

The program is organised around four core objectives:

  1. Increase parent’s knowledge of the risks and consequences associated with underage drinking
  2. Raise awareness about the roles that parents play in adolescent’s alcohol use
  3. Increase and improve parent-child communication
  4. Provide best practice advice and guidance tools to assist parents in the implementation of alcohol specific rules

Are you keen to run a parent session at your school or community centre?

Our mission

 

Blurred Minds is about helping parents to better understand the important role they play in their kids drinking behaviours. We are passionate about making a difference and we know that communicating with teens about sensitive issues isn’t easy. Our evidence-based information and practical tips aim to equip you with the knowledge and confidence to guide your teen to be smart about drinking.