Alcohol and teenagers don't mix, right? And yet many teenagers introduced to alcohol in the home don't become binge drinkers. So what's going wrong?
The Australian Medical Association has found that 37.2 percent of children aged 14 to 19 binge drink. This time of the year is the most problematic. School is wrapping up for many, there are parties, muck up days and the dreaded schoolies.
So how do you know you are raising a future binge drinker? Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Have you consumed alcohol in excess in front of your teen?
2. Have you ever purchased alcohol for your teen to take to a party?
3. Has your teenager returned home drunk and faced no consequences?
4. Have you ever hosted a party for your teenager in your home where alcohol was provided?
Too many Australian teenagers are alcohol obsessed and are happy to join in our well-established drinking culture the moment they turn 18. This has lead to calls for the legal drinking age to be increased to 21 so impressionable minds have a few more years to ponder the consequences of their actions.
Or do it in secret.
Alcohol is a recreational drug. When consumed in excess it is dangerous in so many ways. So how can we prevent this kind of behaviour?
I was introduced to alcohol at the age of seven by my mum. She gave me a little Tia Maria and milk one night and it was delicious. This happened maybe twice a year. Mum also used to let me try her wine and it tasted disgusting to my young taste buds. Dad loved for me to sip his whisky and then cough and splutter while he laughed.
Drinking among family and friends was well-established in my home and yet I never felt the urge to binge drink as a teenager. It never appealed to me.
However my parents never hosted alcohol-fueled parties for me, they never allowed me to take alcohol to parties and they never consumed alcohol in excess.
Alcohol was for sipping during or after a meal.
The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) is urging parents to start a conversation about alcohol with their teenagers. By bringing the topic of conversation out in the open it helps to remove the illusion that the teen is part of a special secret society.
They need to be told the consequences of regular binge drinking.
Don't worry if they roll their eyes, cross their arms and stare at you defiantly. They can still hear what you are saying. You see, no matter how influential your teenagers peer group or how brilliant the government campaign, YOU are still the single biggest influence on their behaviour. And it's the same sex parent who is the most influential.
Richard Gallagher, Director of the Parenting Institute and the Thriving Teens Project at NYU confirms, "Though media and peers play a role, parental influence is critical and there are ways parents can maximize that influence to reduce the likelihood that their children will engage in binge drinking."
- Clearly state what actions you expect your teen to take when confronted with substance use. Teens who know what their parents expect from them are much less likely to use substances, including alcohol.
- Talk about the alcohol use that your children observe. Parents need to make it clear how they want their children to handle substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. Children need to have controlled exposure to learn the rules of acceptable use.
- Help your teen find leisure activities and places for leisure activities that are substance-free. Then, keep track of where, with whom, and what your teen is doing after school and during other free times.
- Limit the access your children have to substances. Teens use substances that are available. They report that they sneak alcohol from home stocks, take cigarettes from relatives, and obtain marijuana from people that they know well.
- Inform teens about the honest dangers that are associated with alcohol use and abuse. Although teens are not highly influenced by such information, some discussion of negative consequences has some impact on the decisions they make. Especially emphasize how alcohol clouds one's judgment and makes one more likely to be harmed in other ways.
And while allowing children a few sips of alcohol here and there isn't a big deal, think twice about hosting a teenage party at your home where you serve alcohol. This is a big mistake. You are setting a terrible example and seeming to condone the behaviour because unfortunately many teenagers won't moderate their behaviour, particularly with alcohol.
The government has tried time and time again to reduce teenage binge drinking with multiple campaigns being run with limited results. It's clearly up to parents to take on that role.
Australian teenagers are dying and being accidentally injured as a result of excessive alcohol consumption from the age of 15.
Have the conversation today.
Did your parents let you drink alcohol in their presence? Have you?