By: Collett Smart
Festivities can be so much fun, and parties provide opportunities for socialising and a little freedom for older teens.
It is wonderful to be young! Encouragingly, it has been reported that teens today are making better choices with alcohol than previous generations. Yet I am often asked, “How much influence do parents have on teens, parties and alcohol consumption?”
A number of studies, in Australia, the US and the UK show more teens choosing not to drink, regardless of gender or socio- economic background. There are still some concerns in the UK where although teens appear to be drinking less than in the past. They are still getting drunk more often and consuming larger quantities of alcohol than many (but no all) of their European peers (see here and here.)
Overall, although fewer teens are choosing to drink, those who do are binge drinking at dangerous levels. With parties come late nights. The resulting tiredness can also alter the ability to make healthy decisions, particularly when alcohol is added to the mix. Given the detrimental effects of alcohol on the developing brain and the numbing fog that comes with consuming alcohol, we need to continue to warn young people about its dangers.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which can make it more likely for teenagers to make risky decisions. Half of sexual victimisation incidents involve alcohol. We still see far too many acts of abuse and harassment occur during alcohol- soaked gatherings. One of my go-to experts on teen drug and alcohol education is Paul Dillon, the founder of DARTA (Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia). Paul wrote this excerpt for my book on teens, parties and alcohol:
“Certainly I believe that this is a generation that really wants to look after others, most particularly their friends.
Girls are more likely to ask for information on how to look after their friends, particularly when they are drunk. But in my experience boys are just as likely to assist in an emergency and are more likely to do it by themselves. Girls tend to operate in ‘packs’ and as a result, no one necessarily takes the lead and that’s where things can go wrong.
Unfortunately, young men’s attitudes toward alcohol are a reflection of what we see in the general community. Even though they truely care about themselves and their friends, when alcohol is added to the equation, their value system can change and their attitudes, particularly toward young women who like to drink, can be frightening.”
Given these detrimental effects, we need to continue to support teens in this area.
A factor we now understand is that parents are one of the main suppliers of alcohol to young teen drinkers. It comes from the mistaken belief that providing their younger teenager with alcohol will help their child to drink ‘more responsibly’. It is wrongly assumed that because they ‘under supervision’ teens will then make better drinking choices when going out. This actually has the opposite effect. These teens tend to drink higher quantities of alcohol when out.
I am also constantly surprised by the amount of times I hear about parents hosting a party and offering to purchase alcohol, on behalf of their teen’s peers. FARE – the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education’s research found that, Australians continue to break the law and supply alcohol to underage drinkers. In the belief that there is little risk of detection or punishment.
“In Australia, almost 60 per cent of alcohol consumed by 12 to 17 year olds is supplied by adult friends, relatives or strangers, despite the fact that the provision of alcohol to young people under the age of 18 by someone other than their parent or guardian is in fact illegal in most Australian jurisdictions.”
The great news?
One of the game changers for the afore mentioned changes in teens alcohol consumption appears to be the reduction in parent supply. (See reports here and here). Many parents have also become aware of the risks of alcohol on the developing brain.
Parties are an area where parents often feel that they have to back off and let teenagers have freedom. This is not the case! If you are hosting a party in your home, it’s important to stay visible and present. It is neither acceptable to play the role of BFF and turn a blind eye, nor for your teen to say to you “stay out of sight”. Besides the fact that it’s your home, having a group of under aged young people under your roof becomes a duty of care issue.
There are usually many other parents expecting a responsible adult to be in charge and supervising. Sitting up in your room is not supervising. Too many young people are put at risk of peer pressure and sexual pressure when there is not supervision in place. Of course, ‘stalking’ is not helpful, but there are lots of creative and non-invasive ways that parents can maintain a presence amongst the teens. Perhaps, cook the barbecue, be in and out clearing cups and plates, fill up chip bowls, do the dishes in the kitchen, change a light bulb 😉 .
If you are dropping off your young teenager at party or ‘gathering’, don’t be afraid to go and meet the hosts. This is especially true if you don’t know them. If your teen is embarrassed, perhaps let them go in first and then come along quietly behind. (Not in secret – so still being upfront with your teen, but letting them know you will wait until they have gone in). Forming a relationship with other parents goes a long way towards making sure that we extend our village and look out for each other’s teens.
It is important that both parents, whether together or not, are on the same page in this area. This may take some compromising and discussion, but you need to remember your child’s safety is paramount!
Please support or encourage a parent, by sharing this article with them.
Article supplied with thanks to Raising Teenagers
About the Author: Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens.