For some parents, talking to their teenager about alcohol and setting rules and boundaries to keep them safe can be tricky and daunting. However, no matter how overwhelming these conversations are, it is vital that they are happening early and often to keep our kids safe. While parents understand that it’s their responsibility to create strategies and educate their kids on when, where and how to drink, it can be difficult working out how to provide this guidance.
According to renowned adolescent psychologist, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg (pictured left) “it’s vital that parents keep the lines of communication open through the teenager years and to make sure you are having open and honest discussions about alcohol.”
“My advice to parents is to start the conversation around alcohol early and have it often so you can help your underage teenagers make the smart choice and say no to drinking alcohol while underage.” Dr Carr-Gregg said.
Tips for talking to your teenager
Teenagers will raise the topic of alcohol if and when they’re ready to talk. Be ready to have the conversation and address their queries – that’s when they’re most open to hear your advice. Remember to plan what you want to say ahead of time. Don’t just wait for them though, set you expectations about no underage drinking before they find themselves in a situation where they could be offered alcohol.
Do your research.
- Be armed with the facts e.g.,
- The legal drinking age in all Australian states and territories is 18 years old.
- 87% of parents aren’t giving their underage teenagers alcohol. 1
- 72% of teenagers aged 14-17 are abstaining from alcohol. 2
- Underage teenagers who are supplied with alcohol are more likely to experience alcohol-related harm, binge drinking and problematic drinking in their future years.3
- The frontal lobe and hippocampus – the areas of the brain that are associated with motivation, impulse control and addiction are going through the most dramatic growth during the teenage years. Drinking alcohol while this growth is happening can disrupt your child’s brain development and even damage their brain.
- Visit It’s okay to say nay for more stats, details on the secondary supply laws in your state and links to advice.
Pick your time.
The car can be a great time and place for constructive conversations – they’re a captive audience and there’s also the benefit that they don’t have to be facing you, which can make things less awkward. Other important teachable moment opportunities can be at events like the footy or a concert or while you’re cooking dinner together. There’s also plenty of moments in real life that will give you a hook for having a conversation – there might be something that’s on television that relates to alcohol. Remember that launching into lecture mode generally doesn’t work!
Challenge unfounded statements.
If your teenager tells you that ‘everyone else’s parents are giving them alcohol’ or ‘everyone else drinks’, show them the research. Most Australian parents (87%)1 aren’t supplying their underage teenagers with alcohol and the majority of underage teenagers in Australia are choosing not to drink alcohol 72%).2. Tell them the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines recommend that to reduce the risk of injury and other harms to health, children and people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol.
Challenge their beliefs.
Be aware that some teenagers may want to drink alcohol believing it will help them fit in – they need to know that the majority of underage teens aren’t drinking so they can be confident saying no to alcohol.
Draw the line between adult and teenager activities.
Don’t be afraid to let your teenager know that some things aren’t appropriate for them. Make sure they hear you say that drinking alcohol is only something that adults do. Set these boundaries so your teenagers know what you expect from them.
Remind them about alcohol laws.
Remind your teenager that in Australia it is illegal for people under 18 to carry or consume alcohol in a public place.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Your GP or local health professional is available for you and your teenager. You can also find support services listed on the DrinkWise website that provide free confidential advice.
Be aware of your own role modelling when it comes to alcohol.
As their major role models, parents play a crucial role in shaping their kid’s attitude and behaviours towards alcohol. If you do choose to drink alcohol as an adult, make sure all your activities don’t revolve around drinking.
Be consistent in your own behaviour.
It can make a real difference when both parents share the same attitudes and act consistently. See our tips for developing a consistent approach to teenager drinking.
Be confident you are in the majority of parents doing the right thing.
Research clearly shows us that the overwhelming majority of other parents don’t supply their underage teenagers with alcohol – so help your kids make the smart choice and be confident in saying no.DrinkWise - Kids and Alcohol Don't Mix brochure
The following resources may help you to plan to have a conversation about alcohol with your teenager:
- It’s okay to say nay
- Developing a consistent approach to teen drinking with your partner
- Setting family rules around alcohol
- Is your drinking influencing your kids?
- DrinkWise campaigns for parents
- Alcohol and your health – DrinkWise body health tool
- Dr Andrew Rochford – Kids and Alcohol video
- Dr Andrew Rochford – Delaying underage teenage drinking
- 72.5% of underaged teenagers (14-17 years) abstained from alcohol in the previous 12 months (National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 2019).
- 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).
- 41.6% of 14-17 year olds who drink reported their main source of alcohol was supplied by their parents in 2019, up from 25.0% in 2010, 29.9% in 2013 and 33.3% in 2016 (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.