As Party Season approaches, the thought of having a discussion with your teenager about alcohol can be a minefield, but it is important that children are armed with the right information when it comes to alcohol/sex or drugs. Research confirms that young people drink for social reasons, and because one of the main drives of adolescence is to form new social bonds, it is easy to see how drinking alcohol is going to be a pull. No teenager wants the horror of not fitting in or feeling left out. Alcohol also reduces inhibitions and helps children enjoy a party and have more fun. Approaching the discussion about Alcohol needs to tread a fine balance and is a topic which needs re-visiting over the years.
1. Help them to make their own choices. Attitudes amongst young people towards alcohol and drinking have undergone a seismic shift in recent years. Many young people have been brainwashed to think that the pre-requisite for a Big Night Out involves getting pre-loaded, and bingeing with the specific aim of getting drunk. So a culture has emerged which believes that: Drunk = Popular + Fun. So keep reminding your child to respect their developing autonomy and not feel pressured to conform in this way.
2. Affirm limits & boundaries. Help your child to understand that they CAN discreetly set their own limits and values, moderate drinking AND still have fun with friends. The bonus of this approach is that they are not risking ruining their reputation, or getting involved in risky situations, breaking the law or having detrimental sexual encounters.
3. Make sure they know their facts. Healthy teen development involves risk taking, experimentation, socialising and pleasure-seeking, so whilst the accelerator is flat to the floor, our role is to ensure that teenagers are armed with the correct information and facts on how to practice safe drinking and stay within unit guidelines.
4. Teens should not drink alcohol before they are 16 according to current medical research from NIH. The jury’s still out on exactly how much damage and disruption alcohol does to the brain’s cognitive/learning capabilities, memory and behaviour whilst it undergoes its massive refurbishment (neuroplasticity) during adolescence. In short, explain to your child that long term drinking seriously risks affecting their future IQ.
5. Alcohol is addictive. The teenage brain is very vulnerable to substance use and abuse because it adapts to experiences (eg drinking) as it matures, so the younger they start, and the more occasions they get wasted, they need to know that they run a higher risk of future alcohol addiction.
6. Alcohol is a depressant & it clouds thinking. Teenagers need to know all the adverse effects of alcohol. Studies at The Society for Neuroscience show that alcohol triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine, leaving a drinker feeling euphoric. Ethanol, the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks acts as a stimulant, and in low doses, reduces feelings of anxiety, slows you down and reduces inhibitions. However, when over indulging or bingeing, it then acts as a depressant, clouds thinking and at very high levels can lead to coma. We need to help our teenagers to make links between their current drinking habits and any adverse physical/mental health symptoms, eg. Feeling low mood/not sleeping/feeling tired/lethargic and “depressed” – all of which are consequences of over indulgence.
7. When it comes to social gatherings at someone else’s house, trust your instincts & check things out. Parental influence, and the capacity to affirm boundaries, has been eroded since the advent of social media, where parties can be arranged without the knowledge or consent of parents. A get-together, with easy access to alcohol and no supervision, is a potentially lethal combination if things get out of hand. Often parents can get hoodwinked into believing that everybody is going, “I would be the only one not allowed to go if you said No”. Explain to your child that, whilst they are still under the legal age limit and under your care, you are going to discreetly check out the lie of the land at the proposed venue, talk to other parents and then make your decision with your child, based on their protection and safety. Also, remind them if they are underage, that if they are asked to take alcohol to a party and they raid home supplies without your permission, you would regard this as stealing.
8. Hosting a party for your teenager yourself. This prospect can be daunting for you and your child. However it is worth spending time discussing and planning how a party could work out successfully. Although teenagers think they want to be left on their own, often they are reassured by your (discreet) presence because this will act as a deterrent to their friends to overstep the mark. Decide how much alcohol is age appropriate and within guidelines and stick to your plan. Teenagers do not exhibit the sedative effects of alcohol in the same way as adults, so it is easy to think they have not had too much. Be aware of contraband being smuggled in (in plastic water bottles) and make sure that there are no areas in the house where groups can congregate to share it out.
9. Parents can have a subliminal and very positive influence just via their own approach to alcohol. There are no specific norms in society and families when it comes to acceptability, age appropriateness or practice of drinking. Because alcohol is readily available in most homes, parents’ drinking habits, attitudes and values speak volumes to impressionable teenagers. Role model an approach to your drinking habits that you would like your child to emulate.
10. Give them information & facts to help them to take responsibility for themselves. Adolescents need to separate psychologically from parents in order to become independent, autonomous and self-governing Adults. The road will be a lot smoother if they feel confident, knowledgeable and aware of limits and risks so that they can think for themselves and make the right choices. Some parents find it hard to impose structure or boundaries, either for fear of unpopularity or because of an aversion to confrontation or discipline. Reassure yourself that boundaries are vital and the result of no clear limits or safety net is a child who is unpredictable, anxious, selfish and unable to self-police in other areas in their life.
Make it clear that their health, safety and wellbeing is of vital importance to you.