‘There is a way to stop teens binge drinking. And it starts with parents.’

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Talk about teen drinking to any group of parents and the responses usually fall into three camps.

There are parents who are firmly in the It is illegal and should not happen camp. There are parents who are trying to somehow hurdle two extremes: the reality of teens drinking and being completely uncomfortable with the idea of teens drinking at their house.

Then there are parents who believe that pretending drinking isn’t going on at “gatherings” and parties is a Fool’s Paradise and further to that, they are comfortable letting underage teens drink in their homes.

The usual defence is: Well they will just go to a park and at least I know they are safe if they are at my place.

I’m a mum to three daughters: two teens and a tween. This year we also have a teen boy living with us who is going to school around the corner. It feels like there are a lot of teens in my house eating a lot of toast.

I know some teens drink, some don’t. I know some teens drink to excess. I know drinking to excess regularly is harmful to developing adolescent brains and teens are more likely to hurt themselves or others when they are drinking. I know that a 14-year-old teenager is very different to a 17-year-old teenager.

I have debated with myself, my husband, family, friends, Google about what my response and duty is as a mother when it comes to teen drinking for both my children and other people’s children – and I have landed in a place that is makeshift but solid.

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Jacqueline Lunn share her stance on teen drinking on the This Glorious Mess podcast:

For me, one of the biggest surprises of parenting teens is that I have had to really tap into and understand my own value system. Not the value system of other parents, or my own mum and dad and not even “parenting experts”. My values.

I have come to the decision I cannot knowingly have teens drinking in my house. Particularly teens on the younger end of the spectrum (I think for older teens, I’m still not comfortable but willing to have a conversation). If anything happened at that party – as the adult in charge I would feel responsible.

And things happen when you mix teens, drinking to excess, porn culture, technology. Just listen to your teens or look at the news.

Recently news broke that a 15-year-old girl was allegedly raped at a party and filmed. The footage was distributed amongst teen boys around Sydney.

The girl was unconscious at the time (ask experts or teens themselves and this violence against girls is not an isolated one-off incident). A 15-year-old former private school boy has been charged with aggravated sexual assault. Rapists are responsible for rape, not drinking or short skirts or pink hair, but one of the first questions every parent I know asked was: “Where were the parents at this party?”

It really puts a hole in the oft-used defence of “Well they will just go to a park and at least I know they are safe if they are at my place.” (Plus, there are kids who would not go to the park despite their verbal bravado and are actually looking for an “out” when it comes to drinking). 

letting your teenager drink
Being the parent of a teenager is hard - but being a teenager is harder. Image iStock.

In her Sunday Telegraph column Angela Mollard said parents, "have become like mice, scurrying around trying to keep their children happy yet willing to disappear into a hole when their lion-like teens demand it."

I have no desire to be a 'scurrying mouse' or, worse, an adult clamouring to be liked by a bunch of teenagers - the David Brent of parents. By not wanting to host a teen party and by actively communicating to my kids that I am not on board with underage teens drinking at my house, I am not denying reality. I have spoken repeatedly to my kids about drinking, parties, staying safe, brain development, behaviour, drinking in moderation and how I will always be there if they need me. I'm sure there is something we haven't covered, but I can't think what it is.

As a parent doing my job, I am firstly, surely, allowed to have expectations around my kids' behaviour. Also, as a parent doing my job, I will be there if they make mistakes.

I had a friend recently call up to "thank" another parent for having a party and say her 15-year-old daughter would love to come. The "thanks" was also to check that the parent knew about the party and the party would be supervised. It was Thursday, the party was on Saturday night and the mum on the other end of the phone said:

"You are the first person to call me to check everything is okay."

How about as parents we try to counter the "reality" of  teen binge drinking, not accept it?

How about we stop talking about places that are "safe" for teenagers to get drunk at, and start talking about an expectation of not drinking when young teens and drinking in moderation when older teens?

How about we start talking about the toxicity of Australia's drinking culture and its dark shadow of physical, sexual and verbal violence?

Girls being raped when they are passed out at parties, boys being coward punched, kids being filmed while performing sex acts should not be regular scenes from a teen party.

If there is a Hell, that is what I imagine it to look like.

I want more for all our teens.

We obviously have a long way to go, but surely change begins at home?

Listen to the full episode of This Glorious Mess here:

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