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Parenting & Education in Ireland

Teens and Alcohol

As the parent of teenage girls I am aware of the dangers of teenage drinking. However, as I journey through the minefield that is parenting teens, I am more and more convinced that the strength of my relationship with them is ultimately the only real control I have over my teens. I cannot force them to do what I want and I simply alienate them from me, so what is the alternative?

The importance of the parent & relationships in the family

If the focus is on establishing a good relationship, good communication, some boundaries and setting a good example it will make a difference. If I give them the facts of drinking at an early age, give reasons not to drink and provide ways to avoid dangerous situations.  Helping them to identify fun alternatives to drinking and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Knowing their friends parents and keeping tabs on their activities is important in early/middle teen years especially.
 

Parents Own Drinking

We have one of the worst incidences of underage binge drinking in the EU and there can be a link to their parent’s attitude to their own drinking. Many teenagers when questioned can say ‘they can hardly lecture me’ and this can have an influence on a teen’s attitude to drink.  Do we drink to excess and if so; what message are we sending out to our teens as they are more likely to do what we do; not do what we say. Awareness of our drinking (frequency/quantity is important when parenting teens.
 

When do teen start drinking?

Headstrong, The National Centre for Youth Mental Health recently reported that for school teens, problems are most pronounced in third and fifth frequently and h year. Third year was identified as the most vulnerable year.  Fifteen year old students are facing the Junior Cert, and it is the stage when most start drinking. The studies show that about half this age group are regular drinkers. Yet, almost half do not drink therefore; what can we do to help our young people resist peer pressure?

What can parents do to help?

The bottom line is: A strong Parent-child relationship where you believe and trust in your child. Teens are more likely to delay drinking when they have a close, supportive tie with a parent who has had good communication with them around this issue. A good relationship with you is likely to influence your child to try to live up to your expectations. Warm and positive parenting ensures a child’s self esteem and a feeling of being happy with themselves.

Peer Pressure

A good relationship with your teen makes it easier to withstand peer pressure. The opposite is also true: when the relationship between parent and teen is full of conflict or distant, the teen is more likely to use alcohol. Firm but appropriate expectations, backed up with explanations; help them make sensible choices. If there is a history of alcoholism in the family, your child needs to know that for them, drinking carry’s extra risk.

Good communication is vital

Establish open communication, therefore do not preach, lecture, advise or moralise. Instead, encourage conversation by listening without interruption (something I find a challenge) by asking open ended questions. “What do you think about teen drinking?” Why does she think teenagers drink? Listen without interrupting, she will feel heard and respected, and you may learn something. Control your emotions, you may hear something you do not like, take a few deep breaths and acknowledge your feelings in an honest way. Make every conversation a ‘win-win’ experience; if you show respect for your teen’s viewpoint, she will be more likely to show respect for yours.

Educate them on the dangers of alcohol

Give your child some facts about Alcohol and good reasons not to drink. You want your child to avoid alcohol and establish consequences for breaking rules. Your values count with your child, even if they do not show it. They have probably witnessed other young people drunk and making a fool of themselves, say you want them to maintain self respect. Drinking can be dangerous; a leading cause of teen injuries and death is drink driving.

Teen drinking is dangerous

Alcohol lowers your inhibitions-so many drink as it makes them feel more relaxed and confident, but also more vulnerable to sexual assault and unprotected sex. Underage drinking is illegal; the parents of your child’s friends may no longer permit them to associate with your child. Anyone can develop a serious alcohol problem, including a teenager. Brainstorm difficult situations: Say “if you find yourself anywhere you are not comfortable; you can call me and I will pick you up immediately – and there will be no punishment”
 

Tips for reducing teen drinking: 

  • A warm and loving relationship with your child
  • Good Communication so they feel they have someone to talk to
  • Your discipline (or lack of) around alcohol influences them
  • High Self Esteem helps them resist peer pressure
  • Talk ‘with’ not ‘at’ them about the danger of underage drinking
  • Give them some good reasons not to drink (cost/put’s on weight etc)
  • Set clear, realistic expectations for your child’s behaviour
  • Brainstorm difficult situations with them
  • Have consequences and enforce them
  • Encourage activity in sports or hobbies


This article was written by Sheila O Malley. Sheila owns Practical Parenting and offers courses, 1 to 1 support and School Talks as well as Company talks on Parenting and wellbeing. See www.practicalparenting.ie for details. Book a One Day Saturday course from 10-4pm with a friend or partner and get the tips to need to support you in the hardest job you ever do!