Young People’s Relationship with Alcohol

The relationship young people have with alcohol is strongly influenced by Australia’s culture. Our culture normalises the consumption of alcohol creating a relaxed attitude towards alcohol and the view that it is not harmful. This culture also influences how young people view alcohol.

Alcohol is regularly consumed and promoted at places where children play and socialise, and where adults socialise accompanied by their children. This can include visiting licensed premises, or at get togethers with adults drinking alcohol. Experts advise that this normalisation of alcohol sends a message that alcohol is not harmful, which can encourage favourable attitudes towards alcohol use. [1]

Viewing alcohol as something that is not harmful can encourage young people to drink at an earlier age and aspire to be part of the general drinking culture they see around them, which includes harmful alcohol consumption. [2]


So what can you do?

Evidence tells us that what you do as a parent, how you communicate your expectations and whether you supply alcohol does affect your child’s choices about alcohol. As a parent you can influence your child’s behaviour and choices about alcohol by doing the following. [3]

Avoid providing alcohol to your children.

It is within your control not to supply alcohol for your child to consume within the home or in other settings, even if you are feeling pressured by your child or other parents.

Advise other parents about your expectations for your child about alcohol.

Talk to other parents and let them know that you do not want them to provide alcohol to your child under any circumstances. [4] This is especially relevant when young people are going to friends’ houses for parties.

The NHMRC alcohol guidelines provide a clear message that for under 18s, no alcohol is the safest choice.

Be aware of places and situations where your child may be exposed to people drinking alcohol.

 Young people, who take up drinking at an earlier age, tend to drink more and are likely to develop harmful drinking patterns. [4,5]

Be sure that your child understands that they need to keep in touch with you about where they are, and to seek your permission to be there. Also reach an agreement on what time they need to come home, and what will happen if they do not follow through with the agreement you have both made.

Discuss alcohol with your child from an early age and explain your expectations about alcohol.


What to discuss with your child?

  • Explain the evidence about the harmful effects of alcohol on the body, particularly the effects on the developing brain.
  • Talk about the way alcohol is portrayed in the media. Point out alcohol advertising and ask your child who they think the ad is aimed at? Ask them what parts of the ad made them think it was aimed at the group they identified.
  • If your child enjoys sport, see if you can find any alcohol advertising at a sporting event and discuss how alcohol affects sporting performance.
  • Raise an issue you’ve seen or heard in the media, such as a story about a person making a poor choice about alcohol which led to a negative outcome. Discuss what may have led to this outcome and what it might mean for their future. Ask them if something similar has happened to any of their friends.
  • Discuss how other people’s drinking might affect them and help them to develop responses, such as how to cope with pressure to drink, how to defuse aggression and how to avoid getting in a car with someone who is drunk [3]
  • Sometimes your child’s friends may have difficulty with alcohol, so it is worth talking about how they can look after their mates. Alcohol overdose is not uncommon and showing them how to place someone in the recovery position and calling for help on 000, may save their friend’s life. Looking after your mates is a way of also learning how to look after yourself.


How to talk to young people

Parents of young people will no doubt be well aware of how easily a discussion can start out amicably, but end up heated, leaving both parent and child wondering how it got to this point.

If possible start conversations about alcohol early in your child’s life. This sets you up for easier discussions during teenage years and means they should already be aware of what your attitudes and expectations are about alcohol. This also builds respect and good communication which will help you work through more specific issues as they grow older. [6]

Some important points to consider when talking to your child:

Your child’s brain is in a development phase and they may have trouble expressing what they mean. Try not to take things they say personally, stay calm and stick to the subject.

Listen to what they have to say and don’t interrupt. You can try checking that you heard correctly by repeating key points back to them.

Pick the right time to talk, such as when you are in the car, on a walk with them, or waiting at an appointment.

If something happens and they are intoxicated or they have broken your agreement, leave the discussion until an appropriate time after the event. [6]

Remember that communication is a two way process and it is important that your child has an opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions.

Parents as role models – consider how you use alcohol.

Your child is learning about how alcohol is used, from the world they live in, and the people that play significant roles in their life.

If you drink alcohol, you need to be aware that your child will learn their attitudes from the way you use alcohol and how much you drink. Showing your child that life can be fun and have meaning when alcohol is not involved can help to shape a responsible approach to alcohol.

For example, show them that alcohol does not have to be part of every social event (such as at school functions and barbeques). Drinking at low risk levels when you do drink (in the family home for example) may also encourage your child not to drink at all, or to use alcohol in a low risk way when they get older. [6]

Find out if alcohol and other drug education is being taught at your child’s school.

Health and Physical Education is a compulsory learning area in all schools and there are a number of student outcomes that teachers need to meet in this area. Teachers have access to a wide range of subject matter to meet these outcomes, and they do not necessarily need to include alcohol and other drug education in their curriculum.

Teaching about alcohol and other drugs at school is an important part of a comprehensive approach to enable your child to make informed healthy choices about alcohol and other drug use.

If alcohol and other drug education is being taught, find out what your children are learning so you are able to provide accurate information in discussions with your child and to support what is being taught at school.

If alcohol and other drug education is not being taught at your child’s school you can approach the parent representative of the Parent & Citizen Association to express your view about how important it is to have alcohol and drug education as part of the school curriculum.