Parents would do anything to protect their kids. But, as children grow up and start to explore their independence, parents are often left feeling less involved. And they realise that they have less influence on the choices their young people make. Children will start to experience and try many new things as they become teenagers, which is perfectly normal and necessary. But, what about the things that aren’t safe for them to be trying? How do we keep them from things that could potentially harm them? One of these concerns is underage drinking. We know from research that alcohol consumption while the brain is still developing can limit a young person’s potential. So, we have parents asking: “how can I prevent underage drinking?”.
Many people have different ideas on how to prevent underage drinking, but from plenty of research, we do know that there are some very effective methods.
Parents Attitude Towards Alcohol
Young people’s views on alcohol and their drinking behaviour is very likely to mirror that of their parents. We know from research that parental modelling is a crucial component in the development of adolescent drinking patterns. If parents are supportive of alcohol use and they model this behaviour, it will encourage their children to imitate the same behaviour.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that to protect your children from underage drinking you have to quit consuming alcohol. But the way in which you view and use alcohol can have a large impact on your child. If you often binge drink at parties, chances are your children will do the same. If you often come home from a long day at work and say, “What a day! I need a drink to relax”, then that’s sending the message to your child that alcohol is needed to relax. Young people are much more likely to follow the example we set rather than the rules we give them1. Furthermore, parents who supply even small amounts of alcohol to their children increase their likelihood of drinking by the age of 152.
Monitoring and communicating
Parents often want to treat their adolescents as adults to encourage them and prepare them for adulthood. But the reality is: they aren’t adults yet and they still need to be parented! Parental knowledge of youth daily activities3 is one of the most important factors that determine if they will become involved in underage drinking and how much they may drink. When parents know what their children are up to, they tend to start drinking at a later age and they drink less. The idea of monitoring your teenager can seem like a daunting and difficult task, but it can be as easy as being involved in their interests and hobbies or asking you child to invite their friends over to your house, so you can get to know them.
Communication with your child is also important. Let them know that you are always ready and willing to talk and listen. Ask them open-ended questions and encourage them to share their thoughts, feeling and opinions about a range of topics, including alcohol. This can show your child that value what they think. It will encourage them to be honest and say what they mean, not what they think you want to hear.
Getting your young person involved in extra-curricular activities such as sport, music, dance or art is a huge protective factor. Multiple studies have been done to show that young people who participate in activities outside of school are less likely to be involved in underage drinking.
In Icelandfor example, state funding was increased in 1999 for organised sport, music, art, dance and other clubs. This has contributed to Icelandic young people now having the lowest rates of alcohol and other drug use in all of Europe.
The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had reported being drunk in the last month went from 42% in 1998, down to 5% in 20164.
Extracurricular activities not only help young people feel part of a group or community, but when adults are a part of this community, they have role models and positive influences. They also feel good by participating in the activity rather than through underage drinking.
Finishing High School
Several studies have shown that young people who leave school around years 8, 9 and 10, have a greater likelihoodof participating in underage drinking. Completing school is a protective factor and there are many reasons for this. Firstly, in school, many kids are introduced to some form of alcohol & other drug education, from their classroom teacher and also from external presenters through programs like Encounter Youth Education™.
This education gives young people accurate and appropriate knowledge about alcohol and other drugs, but also helps them to make informed decisions about their own alcohol and other drug use. Secondly, in school, kids are able to develop personal, social and resistance skills. They learn how to navigate social situations, they gain confidence in themselves and they learn how to stand firm in their decisions and choices. Lastly, within a school environment, kids have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships, not only with peers, but with adults as well. Teachers, coaches and other staff can not only be positive role models for students, but they can also become mentors and provide support for students.
Preventing Underage Drinking?
There are many ways parents and adults can help prevent underage drinking and support young people in their decisions but most of all, we encourage parents and adults to inform their young people with balanced, truthful information about alcohol and other drugs, so they can make the decisions that are right for them. A great place to start is to read about what’s really going on with young people and alcohol & other drugs. We invite you to check out the many articles we publish on our Education Blog or see our Parent Resources page.
1 Murphy, E., O’Sullivan, I., O’Donovan, D., Hope, A., & Davoren, M. P. (2016). The association between parental attitudes and alcohol consumption and adolescent alcohol consumption in Southern Ireland: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health, 16(1). doi:10.1186/s12889-016-3504-0
2 Mattick, R. P., Wadolowski, M., Aiken, A., Clare, P. J., Hutchinson, D., Najman, J., . . . Kypri, K. (2016). Parental supply of alcohol and alcohol consumption in adolescence: prospective cohort study. Psychological Medicine, 47(02), 267-278. doi:10.1017/s0033291716002373
3 Jackson, N. et al (2014). Predictors of drinking patterns in adolescence: A latent class analysis. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 133-139
4 Arnarsson, A., Kristofersson, G. K., & Bjarnason, T. (2017). Adolescent alcohol and cannabis use in Iceland 1995-2015. Drug and Alcohol Review. doi:10.1111/dar.12587