Top 10 tips for parents
1. Know the facts about alcohol and young people – Understand why teens drink and know the risks. There are very good reasons why young people shouldn’t drink. Your child will respond better to facts than vague warnings.
2. Let them know your values and what you expect – Give a clear message that you don’t approve of underage drinking: “I don’t want you to drink until you are older” and explain why. Using some facts about underage drinking can help you to explain why you feel this way.
What you should know about alcohol can help you to explain some of the risks.
3. Make sure they hear that you care about them – While your teen may not like your rules, deep down, no teen is unhappy to know that their parents care enough to keep them safe.
4. Challenge ‘normal’ drinking – “Everyone drinks” “We all went through this phase” “It’s part of having fun”.
It can be hard to argue against the strong messages children get from the media, marketing messages, their friends and from what they see around them. You can feel like a lone voice in the crowd. But drinking alcohol puts young people at risk in lots of different ways.
Don’t miss the opportunity to teach your kids about the downsides of drinking.
5. Keep a close relationship with your child – It can be hard to find ways to stay close to your child as they grow older, but it’s important to try and keep a close relationship. Spend time with them – even being in the same room can help.
Look out for moments when your child is willing to talk - during a car journey, over dinner, while watching TV – and give them your full attention. In a study of 400 adolescents, parent involvement and adolescents’ positive regard for their parents were related to less smoking and drinking.¹
6. Be the uncool parent – You might understand why your child is drinking - you probably drank or got drunk yourself when you were their age. But the evidence shows that the best way to keep your child safe is to check what your child is doing and to give a clear message of disapproval about underage drinking.
It may make you unpopular, but while they are still developing, it’s best to help them avoid drinking situations.
7. Don’t give your child alcohol – Some parents believe that giving their child some wine during dinner or a limited amount of alcohol to drink at a party will help them to become responsible drinkers. In fact, research suggests that children who are supplied alcohol by their parents may drink more, as they feel they have ‘permission’ to drink and are more likely to drink in a harmful way.²
8. Have rules and boundaries – Make sure your child knows what you expect and what will happen if they break the rules. Rules will probably work better if you explain to your child why they are needed and ideally get their agreement. Our Guide to setting rules around alcohol can help.
“My Dad drinks 10 pints on a Saturday night – so he can hardly lecture me.”4
9. Set a good example – “Children who see their parents drunk are more likely to get drunk, drink underage and binge drink.”3
- Be conscious of staying within the weekly guidelines and keep your drinking away from your children.
- Avoid drinking at home before going out socially.
- Don’t let them see you drunk.
- Be aware of the messages you are giving about alcohol - don’t laugh about drunken exploits and hangovers in front of them or say things that reinforce the idea that drinking is the best way to relax, handle stress, take time out or enjoy yourself.
10. Keep an eye on your child – Knowing where your child is, what they are doing and who they are with is important.
Research has found that young people who are not regularly monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use alcohol or drugs. They are also more likely to begin drinking at a younger age, tend to drink more and are more likely to develop harmful drinking patterns.5
Get to know their friends, check that they are where they say they are, insist they keep their phone on and charged, be available to collect them.
Watch how much money they have, look for signs that they may be drinking – like taking rucksacks to parties or drink going missing from your home.
1 John W. Santrock, Adolescence, 10th ed., (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005) p 458
2 S.M. Ryan, et al, Parents Factors Associated with Reduced Adolescent Alcohol Use, (Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2010
3 Dr Aric Sigman, author of Alcohol Nation: How to Protect Our Children from Today’s Drinking Culture
4 6th year student quoted in Sharing Experiences And Suggestions Around Alcohol & Substance Abuse A Collaborative Guide For Parents, 2nd Edition, Brian Wall, 2011.
5 National Health and Medical Research Council (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/ds10-alcohol.pdf
(2013) NYCI. Support manual for dealing with substance use issues in an out of school setting. National Youth Council of Ireland, Dublin
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