Evidence based tips to protect your teenager from dangerous drinking

Drinking by teenagers is a concern for both parents and governments. Many parents however remain confused about how to do this and what the best thing to do is. It seems there is a divide between those who allow drinking to 'keep them off the streets', those who allow drinking small amounts to 'take the novelty out of it' and those who ban it completely.

Well the first question is how much should your teenager be drinking?
Australian Guideline: Those under 15 should not drink at all and after 15 should delay drinking for as long as possible.
Drinkers under the age of 15 are much more likely to undertake in risky or antisocial behavior and injuries, suicides, sexual coercion and violence have all been shown to be increased in this age group by drinking.
The effects do not end once they are adults either, alcohol drinking from a younger age is linked to alcohol related problems later in life in particular more frequent and higher quantity alcohol consumption throughout their life placing them at greater risk of alcohol-related harm.
There is also some reason to believe that drinking at this age can lead to brain damage. The hippocompal part of the brain is uniquely sensitive to alcohol during adolescence and changes in brain structure have been shown to occur in young people with alcohol use disorders.  Poorer attention spans, memory retrieval and visuospatial performance in tasks has all been found to result from teenage drinking.

Australian Guideline: Drinking between the age of 15-17 should be done at a low risk level (less than 2 drinks per day as per adult limits) and in a safe environment, supervised by adults.
Between the ages of 15-17 drinking is associated with higher levels of risky behavior. As such, it should be done at a low level and be supervised in order to prevent this behaviour from occurring.
Additionally, studies have indicated that teenagers who were introduced to alcohol via their parents at home had a reduced level of drinking compared to drinking at a party.

This sounds sensible enough to me and according to studies most parents yet only 35% of teenagers are actually drinking within those guidelines 2.
It is likely that this is because most parents don't know what strategies will actually successfully limit their teenagers drinking. To help parentswith this, the parenting guidelines for adolescent alcohol use were developed (available on www.parentingstrategies.net/alcohol). However despite being available since 2011 few parents are aware of this and studies have shown less than 50% of parents were behaving in keeping with the guidelines 2.

Here's what you're suggested to do.

Do not give your teenager any alcohol under the age of 15
Delay their first alcoholic drink for as long as possible.

Model responsible drinking yourself - limit your alcohol use, decline alcohol sometimes and do not get drunk in front of your children.


  • Discuss alcohol with them and explain why it is best to wait until they are older to start drinking. Explain that their brain is still developing and is more vulnerable to alcohol.
  • Do not talk about alcohol in an irresponsible way e.g. do not tell funny or glamorous stories involving drinking and do not portray alcohol as a good way to deal with stress. 
  • Do not use scare tactics or exaggerate negative effects
  • Try and discuss the following issues with your child
    • The facts about alcohol including its harm and the health benefits of choosing not to drink. 
    • Emphasise short term harms such as embarrassment and harm to friendships
    • That the effects of alcohol vary depending on the amount of alcohol, the person and the situation
    • That different types of alcoholic drinks contain different amounts of alcohol
    • The laws relating to underage alcohol consumption, drunkenness and drink driving
    • Drinking in moderation
    • Expectations of behaviour for specific situations (family events, teenage parties, 'schoolies')
    • How risks can be minimised including not participating in activities such as skateboarding, swimming or riding a bike after drinking.
    • The additional risks of using alcohol in conjunction with other drugs.
    • How to deal with peer pressure to drink including ways to say no to offers of alcohol
    • Strategies for handling or removing themselves from situations where others have had too much to drink - make it clear that you will support them and pick them up.
    • Strategies for minimising harm associated with alcohol such as staying with friends and ensuring others know where they are.
    • Discuss drink spiking and how to protect themselves
  • Continue to talk about alcohol throughout their adolescence including responsible drinking as an adult
  • Have clear family rules including those not specific to alcohol. 
  • Establish rules about alcohol before they are exposed to situations involving alcohol.
  • Establish rules about alcohol for when they are at home unsupervised.
  • Suggested rules: any alcohol stored in the family home is not available to them or their friends. 
  •                            They must never get into a car driven by someone who has been drinking but that you will either pay for a taxi or pick them up. 
  •                            They must never drink alcohol and drive
  • There should be no ramifications for calling for help when encountering a dangerous situation involving alcohol. In fact they should receive positive feedback for responding appropriately to the situation.

Teenagers are more likely to misuse alcohol when adults are not around. Monitoring your teenagers whereabouts and activities reduces the likelihood of misusing alcohol You should particularly know where they are if they or others are planning on drinking. 
  • Explain to them that you are monitoring their activities because you care about their safety.
  • Balance monitoring with their need for privacy and adjust it as they mature to encourage their independence.
  • Get to know the families of your teenagers friends including their values and attitudes regarding alcohol
When going out
  • Ask them where they will be, what they will be doing and who they will be with
  • Set a curfew and know when they will be home.
  • Ask them to contact you if their plans change and make sure they have a way to contact you.
  • If giving them money, discuss how much they need and how it will be spent. 
  • If going to a parent check that it is adequately supervised and get the name and number of the responsible adult. 
When at home
  • Encourage them to invite their friends over when you are home 
  • Talk to your teenagers friends and interact with them.

Maintain a close and supportive relationship with your teenager
  • Support them in dealing with problems and coping with disappointment.
  • Encourage the use of healthy approaches for dealing with stress.
  • Be involved in their life and spend time together
  • Establish and maintain good communication


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