Teen drinking and the festive season
During the Festive season young people have either finished their school year or are on a holiday break. Festivities can be so much fun, and end of year parties provide opportunities for a little freedom for older teens. It is wonderful to be young!
With the festivities come late nights. The resulting tiredness can also alter the ability to make healthy decisions, particularly when alcohol is added to the mix.
Encouragingly, it has been reported that teens today are making better choices with alcohol than previous generations. A number of studies, in Australia, the US and the UK show more teens choosing not to drink, regardless of gender or socio- economic background. There are still some concerns in the UK where although teens appear to be drinking less than in the past, they are still getting drunk more often and consuming larger quantities of alcohol than many (but no all) of their European peers (see here and here.)
Overall, although fewer teens are choosing to drink, those who do are binge drinking at dangerous levels. Given the detrimental effects of alcohol on the developing brain and the numbing fog that comes with consuming alcohol, we need to continue to warn young people about its dangers. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which can make it more likely for teenagers to make risky decisions, with half of sexual victimisation incidents involving alcohol. We still see far too many acts of abuse and harassment occur during alcohol- soaked gatherings.
One of my go-to experts on teen drug and alcohol education is Paul Dillon, the founder of DARTA (Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia). Paul wrote this excerpt for my book,
Can parents make a difference?
A factor we now understand is that parents are one of the main suppliers of alcohol to young teen drinkers. It comes from the mistaken belief that providing their younger teenager with alcohol will help their child to drink ‘more responsibly’, because they are supposedly ‘under supervision’ and they will then make better drinking choices when going out. This actually has the opposite effect: these teens tend to drink higher quantities of alcohol when out.
Given these detrimental effects, we need to continue to support teens in this area.
The great news? One of the game changers for the afore mentioned changes in teens alcohol consumption appears to be the reduction in parent supply (see here and here). Many parents have also become aware of the risks of alcohol on the developing brain.
- Modelling – The place to start is by modelling healthy choices with alcohol ourselves and openly talk about our family values and thoughts on underage drinking.
- High school parties – If your child is in high school (particularly in the latter high school years), it is a good time to start with discussions about alcohol at parties and what they think they might do if offered a drink.
- ‘Safe outs’ – Telling teens to ‘Just say no’ is very difficult for many to do in reality. Help them come up with scripts they could say, and come up with safe ‘outs’ for when they are in situations where drinking is involved. For example, they could make an excuse about having sport or work the next day and needing a clear head, feign illness, hold the same drink all night, or volunteer to be the designated driver.
- Peer pressure – is and always has been a major factor in teens’ choices around alcohol. So when teens hear about the negative effects of alcohol on their health and relationships, and that their generation is making better choices than ever with alcohol, they can (and do) make more informed decisions.
- Share your own story – I tell teens about the time I was offered alcohol at a party when I was 14. The alcohol was bought and supplied by the parent, who often wanted to be seen as ‘the cool mum’. The power imbalance was enormous in having an adult encourage the young girls to drink. I spent the party walking around with the same can in my hand, pretending I had just picked up a new one. During the course of the night I slowly disposed of the contents into the indoor pot plants. Ideas and stories help teens think of creative ways to stick with their values, but also not feel embarrassed. They help teens realise they are not alone in choosing not to drink.
It is important that both parents, whether together or not, are on the same page in this area. This may take some compromising and discussion, but you need to remember your child’s safety is paramount!
Have a safe and happy Christmas season and New Year.