Teenage drinking

New Zealand’s number one drug problem? Alcohol. Drinking is the single greatest social challenge that young people face as they start partying and moving outside of their parents’ direct supervision. How your child will eventually use (or not use) alcohol will be a choice they will make for themselves as adults – we cannot make that choice for them. But in the meantime, we have the obligation to protect and train our children. Here are some ideas to consider.

  • Thoughtfully establish your own family culture. Children will need to know the reasons behind your choices. Practising something other than what you ‘preach’ is to invite problems.
  • Be aware that alcohol is a significant factor in a huge proportion of crime, violence and road accidents. Most teenagers have sex for the first time after drinking.
  • Realise alcohol abuse runs in families. There may be a genetic component, and there is certainly an effect of example. If alcohol has been a problem in your own life or in your family, then extra caution is required. Abstinence may be the wisest choice.
  • Know that a large number of young teens drink in unsupervised situations – a huge number admit to getting drunk every weekend.
  • Educate your children to be assertive in social settings, to be able to make decisions and stick to them. Role-play ‘what if?’ scenarios with them. How they eventually come to use alcohol will probably have more to do with their own self-esteem and social skills than any other factor.
  • Establish an atmosphere where young people know they can talk to you about issues, and can even talk about their mistakes and experiences, without angry reactions.
  • Educate young people about alcohol, the risks of spiked drinks and the danger of poor decisions.
  • Be emphatic – “Do not drive after drinking, or ride with a driver who has been drinking.” In return, you agree to pick them up without subjecting them to the third degree.
  • Require your young people to let you know where they are, with whom, and when they will be home. If they choose to live under your roof, you require that.
  • Resist the peer pressure parents often feel – only allow alcohol-free parties for underage teenagers.
  • Be alert for signs of alcohol and drug abuse in your child. Yes, even in your child.

Things you need to know

  • Alcohol is the biggest challenge most kids face during social events in their teen years.
  • Most young people are drunk when they have sex for the first time. Most regret it. Some can’t even remember what happened.
  • Alcohol kills teen drivers and others.
  • Kids get good education about drugs and alcohol, but immaturity means knowing the dangers does not translate into good risk-assessment.
  • Common factors in drug and alcohol-free kids are resilience, confidence, social skills, and a wide range of activities (sports, music, cultural and youth groups – bored people do dumb things). Most importantly, a keenness not to lose their parents’ approval.

Things you need to hear

  • How do your kids encounter alcohol?
  • What do they think about drinking and those who drink?
  • What is the real reason behind teenagers getting drunk?

Things you need to get across

  • Your own attitudes to alcohol
  • Your limits for them around alcohol – None? When they are older? A drink count? Only with adults present? Only what you supply?
  • Breaking the law is serious
  • Breaking your rules will have consequences
  • Do they know how to say no without losing face? “I’ve got asthma”, “Sorry, mate, I’ve got a soccer game tomorrow”, “It makes me stupid and I am stupid enough”.


About Author

John Cowan

Writer, speaker and broadcaster, John Cowan shares his insight and opinions about the latest in parenting and family news in New Zealand. Hear John speak on radio stations every week throughout the country and regularly on national TV.  Follow @JohnCowanNZ on Twitter

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