We know it’s hard
As young people grow and begin to navigate the adult world, talking to them about what comes with that can be hard.
The ‘sex talk’ has always been the greatest taboo. But actually, as parents, we generally pull up our ‘big-kid pants’ and tackle that one head on.
We’re not so good at talking about alcohol though, or making it a priority. Cheers! research shows that alcohol only ranks 13th on parents' list of worries about their children’s wellbeing.
But given that alcohol is a mind-altering drug that can influence poor decision making – resulting in choices that could get them into serious strife – alcohol should be much further up the list.
Talking about alcohol can be hard, but we’re here to help.
What to do, what to say
In this section we have lots of good advice for talking to teens. Our top tips are:
- Be the one to have ‘the talk’
- Give them the facts (especially about standard drinks).
- Set and enforce good rules
- Be a good role model
- And finally… Encourage them to make good choices, expect them to make mistakes and be there when they do.
Think you’re doing ok?
We interviewed parents and their children for our research. Generally parents think they are doing a good job of the alcohol talk, but their children say they’re not!
From a teen’s point of view the biggest mistakes are:
- Trying to be their friend – It’s a common mistake to try and show a young person that you can relate to the social pressures they face. But actually this just turns them off. The parent’s job is to make sure they’re informed, and to set the rules and stick to them.
- Sharing your own ‘war stories’ – This condones excessive behavior and suggests there are ultimately no consequences (I’m fine, right?!)
- “I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did” – Lines like are perceived to deny them the experience of growing up. This line’s especially bad when it follows a war story!
- Being too permissive or restrictive – It’s a fine balance between friend and dictator. Across all aspects of transitioning from child to adulthood, young people need rules as a way for parents to guide them but the autonomy to make some of their own decisions.
- Not knowing the facts – In other research we found that parents of teenagers have the worst overall knowledge about alcohol and its effects of any group. Young people want information from their parents – you’re their most trusted source – so the onus is on parents to school up.
In most cases the ‘rules’ are unspoken. Most parents think that if their teen is exposed to ‘normal’ drinking when they’re at home, and if they know where their child is if they’re out, then that’s enough!
When parents do attempt a more formal alcohol talk the emphasis is on rules and systems that will make the drinking environment safe, rather than talking to young people about how to drink in a way that will help them stay in control.
It’s the ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ approach, and it's not enough.
Read more here about how to have better conversations about alcohol.
Your child is highly likely to encounter alcohol as they grow up. Whether you allow them to drink is a decision that needs to be made from family to family.
But in any case, young people need to know the facts about alcohol so they can moderate if they are allowed to drink, and know why and how to decline if they’re not.