Catching The Booze Bus
Alcohol is all around us, and is heavily ingrained in the Kiwi social culture. From “six o’clock swill” to all night parties, it’s an aspect of life that your children will be exposed to and tempted by.
Whatever your views, it’s a subject that can’t be ignored. With the party season approaching, Jonathan Young reports.
Seeing your teenager dabble with alcohol is bound to worry most parents, whatever form it takes.
If nothing else, it may bring back memories of your own youth, and the mistakes you made with drink.
As hard as it is to realise, there is always a chance that your child will become an alcoholic. What can you do as a parent to navigate your teenager through the troublesome times ahead?
Learning to handle alcohol is a challenge to teenagers. Your support and advice as a parent is critical, although not always welcome. Helping parents guide their children through this experimental time is one of the main aims of the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (A.L.A.C.).
Their resource “Alcohol and your kids”, recommends establishing clear rules about alcohol use, and sticking to those rules. Either being too strict, or too liberal in terms of alcohol use doesn’t seem to work.
Your rules will need to match your own drinking behaviour. Your teenager will quickly spot any hypocrisy on your part. If at all possible, both parents should agree and stick to the same rules about alcohol, even if they don’t live together. Kids quickly pick up on any inconsistency between their parents and use it to their own advantage.
Discuss why any rules are important. For example it may be a rule in your house that your teenager can only take the car to a party if he or she agrees not to drink at all that night. Explain that drinking and driving not only puts them at risk of being hurt or caught but also affects the rest of the family.
Work out together what will happen if the rules are broken. Be consistent. If they are broken, follow through with the consequences. Some consequences parents have found useful are grounding their teenager or giving them extra household chores.
Young people tend to drink more when their parents are not around. This means establishing good communication lines with friends, relatives, and your children’s friends’ parents.
Try to keep up with what is going on in your teenager’s life. Get to know their friends and make sure you know where your teenager is. That doesn’t mean you need to follow them around or try to be part of their circle of friends. They need privacy too.
When should I introduce my child to alcohol?
According to A.L.A.C. there is no right time to introduce your child to alcohol. However, research shows that the younger a person starts drinking the more likely they are to run into problems.
What is happening in your child’s life, and their own interest in alcohol will also guide you.
If your family has a history of alcoholism, there is an increased risk that your teenager may also become dependent on alcohol. It is important that you tell your teenager this and encourage them to take extra care with their drinking.
If you are hosting a teenage party, sit down and discuss these questions. A.L.A.C. recommends discussing the following:
Who is coming, including how many?
Will alcohol be provided? If so, how much and what kind?
What other drinks, food etc. will be available?
How will you deal with alcohol brought by guests?
Who will serve the drinks?
What time will the party finish?
How will the guests get home?
Will some guests stay over?
How will gatecrashers be handled?
Adult supervision – how will this be done and by whom?
Adult supervision is critical at teenage parties. Make sure it is visible but not intrusive. For example, the teenagers could be in the garage while the adults are in the lounge.
You may ask that all the guests come through the front door first, so that you know who is there.
Set a finish time for the party, and have a group of adults work together to wind it up – this can involve other parents coming to pick up their own kids.
One parent said she clears up empty and full cans as soon as the party is officially over. This works every time. If there’s no more booze, then they can’t drink!
Going to parties
When your teenager wants to go to a party, sit down and agree to some conditions.
These conditions will obviously depend on their age and your own values. As an example, you might set a limit on the amount of alcohol (if any) your teenager can drink.
Contact the host’s parents and check on details such as supervision, time and location, arrangements regarding alcohol and transport. Your son or daughter may give you a rough time about this but it is worth persisting. If your teenager accuses you of not trusting them, explain that trust is not the issue.
You are concerned because you care. Be open about what you are doing. Going behind their back will just make matters worse.
Tell your teenager that if things get out of control at the party, you will always arrange to get them home safely. Talk about the kinds of things that might happen. They need to be prepared if:
The person who was to drive them home is drunk
There is violence or drugs at the party
They are feeling threatened or frightened.
It is important that your teenager has a plan to get out of the situation without losing face, if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Tell them they can phone you at any time and you will come and pick them up.
Give them some emergency money so they can get a taxi home.
Organise a car pool with the parents of your teenager’s friends.
Discuss in advance what should happen when they get home. (you may want them to let you know that they are home (for your peace of mind).
Devise a “party escape” excuse that your child is happy with (like “can I use your ‘phone, I need to get hold of my sister/brother”).
Like many parenting issues, your children will look to you for clear and honest guidelines with regard to alcohol use. The more information you have, the better the likelihood is that your child will have a more healthy attitude to alcohol.
Like it or not, alcohol and its affects are part of growing up, and have been for many generations.
Next: Take The Pressure Down