Although underage abstinence has increased significantly in the past 15 years, some underage teenagers may feel pressure from some peers to experiment with alcohol at parties, but parents are feeling pressure too.
Parents of teenagers have it tough. You’re competing for your kids’ attention with friends, devices, and outside influences beyond your control. You can’t always control everything in your teenagers’ life – but the one thing you can do is set boundaries when it comes to alcohol. Some teenagers think that an alcohol-free party will be boring, placing considerable pressure on parents to supply drinks – but this is risky and dangerous.
It’s important to consider the dangers to developing bodies and brains, as well as the legalities of supplying alcohol to underage teenagers and to be aware that the overwhelming majority (87%)1 of Australian parents aren’t supplying their underage teenagers with alcohol and the majority of underage teenagers in Australia are choosing not to drink alcohol (72.5%).2.
Laws surrounding underage drinking are getting tougher, so it’s important you are aware of your legal obligations. Most states and territories now have secondary supply laws, and others are considering legislation, meaning it’s illegal for an adult to provide alcohol to an under 18 without the consent of that person’s parent.
Allowing your teenager alcohol at home can worsen the situation. A small amount of parents believe that allowing their kids to drink at home will help demystify alcohol, but this is not necessarily correct. Allowing a drink at home can be seen as approval of alcohol, lowering the barriers for teens to drink in other environments. Research shows that following serves of alcohol an adolescent is more likely to report binge drinking, experience alcohol-related harm (e.g., accidents, blackouts and fights) and problematic drinking in their future adolescent years.3. We know that abstaining from alcohol when underage helps protect teenagers, so we want to reassure parents that setting rules and boundaries, as well as setting consequences if these are broken, is the right thing to do.
The overwhelming majority of Australian parents don’t supply their kids with alcohol. So, parents, be confident that you are helping your kids make the smart choice by saying no if asked.
Tips to manage your teen’s objections to an alcohol-free party:
- Explain yourself. Tell them about the risks involved and your concerns about their physical, psychological and social health, and ensure they understand your legal obligations. They may not agree, but they have to understand why you created the rules that exist in your home.
- Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ if they ask you for alcohol at their party.
- Challenge unfounded statements. For example, if your teen tells you that you are the ‘only Mum who won’t let us drink at a party’, don’t let it go unchallenged. Remember, the overwhelming majority (87%) of Australian parents aren’t supplying alcohol for their underage teenagers. If your teenager insists it’s the truth, ask them for the names and numbers of five parents who provide alcohol. Talk to those parents, and make sure other parents know your views.
- Develop a ‘risk assessment’ plan with your teen. It’s important that they understand the responsibility you’re undertaking by holding a teenage party. Sit down with them and develop a risk assessment plan, which clearly outlines all of the things that could go wrong throughout the night. For every risk that’s identified, have your teenager develop an appropriate response. Hopefully it’ll become clear that even an alcohol-free party can be risky, so adding alcohol could be trouble.
- Be aware of your legal obligations.
- Remember the risks and be responsible – even if it makes you unpopular
For tips on talking to your teenagers about alcohol, check out the DrinkWise tips for talking to your teen about alcohol.DrinkWise - Kids and Alcohol Don't Mix brochure
- In consultation with AIHW, “87% of parents aren’t giving their underage teens alcohol” was calculated based on the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 dataset, similar to Chan et. al.’s (2017) paper on the prevalence rate of parental supply of alcohol. Specifically, items used in the parental supply prevalence calculation were a) the percentage of 14-17 year olds who drank in the past 12 months (see Table 3.4) and b) of those 14-17 year olds who drank in the past 12 months, the percentage who reported their usual supply of alcohol were from parents (see Table 3.34).
- 72.5% of underaged teenagers (14-17 years) abstained from alcohol in the previous 12 months (National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 2019).
- Aiken, A., Chan, G., Yuen, W. et al. (2022). Trajectories of parental and peer supply of alcohol in adolescence and associations with later alcohol consumption and harms: A prospective cohort study. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 237, 109533.