A recent survey by the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use found that 81% of parents are not confident in their ability to stop their adolescent child from becoming drunk.
“Parents often don’t realise the huge impact that they have on their child’s drinking behaviour,” says Associate Professor Nicola Newton, Director of Prevention Research at the Matilda Centre. “There are definitely things that parents can do that may lower the risk of adolescents misusing alcohol.”
She suggests modelling responsible drinking behaviour by limiting your own alcohol use, and sometimes declining the offer of alcohol.
“Set your own rules for drinking responsibly, explain them to your adolescent, and then try to stick to them,” Associate Professor Newton says.
You can also model healthy ways to cope with stress that don’t involve alcohol, such as exercise.
“It’s often tempting to come home from a bad day and say ‘I need a drink’, but this conveys the message that alcohol is a good way to deal with stress,” says Associate Professor Cath Chapman, also at the Matilda Centre and a mum of teenage girls.
“Likewise, avoid stories about your own or other’s drinking that could convey the idea that drinking alcohol – particularly becoming drunk – is fun or glamorous.”
It’s also important to bust the common myth that supplying alcohol to adolescents in a safe, supervised environment can help them be more responsible with alcohol in the future.
“This simply isn’t the case,” says Associate Professor Chapman. “Studies have shown that teenagers whose parents give them access to alcohol or let them drink at home are more likely to start drinking earlier, and have more alcohol-related problems in life.”
The Matilda Centre have developed a combined parent and student alcohol prevention program, Climate Schools Plus, to help parents navigate this complicated issue. It includes a curriculum-based component that students work through in their Physical Health and Education classes along with a companion parent component, which is accessed entirely online.
For more information, fact sheets and resources on parenting and substance use among adolescents please visit www.positivechoices.org.au.