10 tips for parents around teen binge drinking. By Collett Smart
The wrestling that occurs in the mind of a teenager when they feel the pressure of peers to drink is enormous. However, when an adult serves up alcohol at a teenage party, this communicates to teens that the adult is both condoning and encouraging them to drink underage. They would not just ‘lose face’ in front of friends by saying no, but there is the added fear of refusing someone that should represent maturity and safety.
This comprises all the facets of power imbalance, coercion and corruption and falls into the realm of child abuse. It is for this reason that I welcome the announcement by the O’Farrell government. Their aim is to make it easier for police to fight the teenage booze culture by seeing adults face a maximum of 12 months’ in jail, for supplying alcohol to any minor who is not their own child.
I know that the drinking culture is a complex issue, however I hail any intervention that stops our teens being put at further risk. Of course I know full well that teens can begin drinking for any number of reasons, however this is termed ‘at risk’ behaviour due to a primary need often underlying said behaviour.
We now know that teenagers who have trouble coping with the stressors in life such as; hormonal changes coupled with being bullied at school, home life struggles or other disruptions are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, engage in criminal activity, become sexually promiscuous, self-harm, engage in disordered eating and some may attempt suicide.
Many of these behaviours are a form of self- medication as a vehicle for temporary relaxation or ‘forgetting,’ but research indicates that the earlier people start drinking, the more likely they are to drink heavily and develop a dependency on alcohol as they move into adulthood.
Binge drinking, which is drinking to get drunk, is the most hazardous way of consuming alcohol. Researchers from the University of California and Stanford University found binge-drink, defined as having four or more drinks for women and five or more for men, showed less activity in several brain regions than teetotal teenagers.
Dr. Susan Tapert found that these differences in brain activity were linked to worse performance on other measures of attention and working memory ability. The greatest concern being that the negative effects of excessive drinking lingered long after the buzz from the alcohol was gone.
It has also become far more socially acceptable for young women to drink in recent years than it was 20 years ago, which unfortunately puts girls at further risk of harm.
What can parents do? 10 tips for parents:
A study has found that teens with “hands on” parents are far less likely to engage in risky behaviours. The ‘tough love’ style of parenting which sees a high level of warmth alongside forms of consistent discipline as proven to be the most effective parenting style in the education of young people about drugs and alcohol.
- Maintain boundaries.
- Teach problem solving and critical thinking skills.
- Know where your children are.
- Check that there is active adult supervision.
- Allow other healthy risk taking activities.
- Agree to a pick up your teen and their friends.
- Decide on a code word that your teen can use if things are getting out of hand.
- Allow for consequences.
- Develop a wide social network.
- Actively seek an older mentor for your teen.
Please seek professional help if behaviour is interfering with day-today functioning. I.e. schoolwork, or relationships having deteriorated significantly and normal support structures are no longer enough.
Author: Collett Smart, registered psychologist and qualified educator.
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