Teenage Drinking


Binge drinking is, without question, the biggest societal challenge young people face today. As we approach the end of the school year with all of its holiday celebrations, it is a timely reminder that as parents we need to be on top of this. We must do the research and some deeper thinking about the issues before our children become teenagers. We need to formulate a plan and execute it with steely determination if we are to guide our young people away from what is undoubtedly the biggest danger to their health and wellbeing … alcohol.

Let’s not put this in the “too hard“ basket or take the pressure off ourselves by believing that times have changed and all the kids do it now or possibly “we all drank as teenagers and we survived”. The first step is accepting we have a problem. With 1 in 4 hospitalisations of 15 — 25 year olds happening because of alcohol, yes, we have a problem. Unfortunately, young people don’t need to sneak into clubs because they are drinking at home where liquor licensing laws do not apply.

I know for sure and certain that I will never go into a bottle shop on my underage child’s behalf. I have spoken with many parents over the years who have reneged on their original position regarding alcohol for a number of reasons — nagging teenagers, a belief that their child will miss out on essential experiences or so they could learn to drink responsibly “under their roof“. Although parents believe they are doing the right thing, research shows kids whose parents refuse to let them drink at home underage are less likely to drink elsewhere. Having small amounts of alcohol as teenagers under age is now known to change the brain significantly and can make young people more prone to alcoholism. In fact, the AMA is currently working with the government to move the drinking age up to 21 in accordance with findings that the brain is not yet able to manage alcohol under that age without sustaining damage. It makes a huge difference: every year that young people go without drinking significantly improved their chances of avoiding an alcohol problem in adult life.

Parents have vital roles in educating their teenagers about alcohol and helping them to develop responsible attitudes towards drinking. Modelling appropriate behaviour at home is paramount. Letting your teenager see you say “no” to a drink occasionally, not always using alcohol to celebrate an occasion, not declaring “I need a drink“ during stressful times, letting them see that 1 or 2 drinks in a social setting is perfectly acceptable but does not need to lead to intoxication are important strategies for parents.

As parents we need to be teaching our children about alcohol from a young age, including tactics such as how to say “no”, pacing yourself, alternating with non-alcoholic drinks, not drinking on an empty stomach and explaining the dangers (fatal road accidents, health problems, weight gain, impact on brain development, increased risk of fights and accidents, criminal charges for drink-driving …the list is endless). We need to educate our teenagers about how binge drinking is even more dangerous for girls as they have an average water/body mass ratio less than boys. Girls also have less of an enzyme, dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol. These are the facts.

Parents should develop their plan regarding parties and schoolies EARLY because the time arrives so quickly. Call other parents to find out who is invited to parties, whether there will be supervision and security and whether alcohol will be permitted. If you decide to let your teenagers go, make your expectations clear … crystal clear ... put plans into place to collect your daughter at a set time YOU choose. This eliminates the temptation to drink if they are staying over a friend’s house or catching a cab home to a sleeping house. It might be inconvenient and tiring but that’s what being a parent is about sometimes. When your teenager does the right thing, acknowledge it and reward it.

I have often said that Steve Biddulph’s book “Raising Girls” is one of the best I have read. I would like to share with you the following from his book.

“If you are a parent, love your daughter - have caring conversations and firm rules around where she is and with whom. Keep communicating with her from the early teenage years. If she starts drinking anyway, get help. Don’t let her out to cruise clubs until she is old enough to take care of herself (at the very least, age 18 Yrs).  Have a definite deal about her getting home and a rescue arrangement that you will go and get her anywhere, anytime. The aim is for your daughter to be able to go out, have a good time and not be harmed. You are on the same side as her, just more aware of the big picture. When she is under age, there isn’t a question; she should not drink”.

​Megan Vardanega,
Social Worker​