During the week a friend of mine was facing a dilemma and spoke to me and other friends about it – her eldest daughter (15 years) asked her if it would be ok to have one can of an alcoholic drink during at a party she been invited to on the weekend. The party was being supervised by another Mum who was ok with the young people attending having one drink under her supervision. The party Mum’s theory was that one drink in supervised conditions was better than the prospect of the young people possibly smuggling in alcohol or arriving drunk. At least this would contain any potential problems and perhaps introduce drinking to young people in a responsible manner.
The party Mum had good intentions and wanted to supervise a function that was fun and wouldn’t get out of control. My friend wanted to ensure she was looking after her daughter and had concerns that if she said ‘no’ her daughter might drink as a result of peer pressure and because she had been disobedient would not be able to talk to her about it later.
The adult friends reflected on their adolescence and in particular how “we all did it” – (experimented with alcohol) and survived – these friends did survive and were able to nostalgically reflect on how they managed or did not manage their parents at the time. But some young people don’t survive and some are deeply affected by their early alcohol experiences.
So how do parents manage this issue and other difficult conversations with their adolescent children?
First encourage them to speak their need or wishes. Listen to what your child is saying or asking and try to understand their point of view – if they feel you have really listened to them they are more likely to listen to you. If they are communicating with you that tells you they value your perspective and want your input. Its ok to say ‘no’ in fact it is important to stick to what you believe is best for your child – that’s your job – its how you look after your child and your child knows this and has some security and safety knowing you are looking out for them. If you say ‘no’ explain your position and reasons clearly, if they understand your perspective and that you believe your decision is in their best interest at this time they will be more likely to comply. However, at this stage in development it is also likely that they will either argue with you, try to push the boundaries as a way of asserting their independence or they may simply not ask and undertake risk-taking behaviours they know you would not approve of.
In the early stage of adolescence, it is normal for teenagers to establish boundaries from family in an attempt to gain an individual sense of self. They may seek less contact with you, choose to withhold information, dress in a manner that challenges family standards and use language that is provoking and confronting. They are also more likely to conform to peer pressure and may experiment with drugs and alcohol and explore their sexual emergence with little consideration of consequences. As parents we need to understand that although this is often hard to cope with, it is a normal consequence of development and a stage that is often confusing and anxiety ridden for our teenges as well as for us.
The best option is:
- to recognise and support their need for independence and self-actualisation;
- to keep communication open;
- to avoid judgement and condemnation;
- to observe, listen and encourage them to communicate their wants and needs;
- to support them toward making decisions for themselves that are considered and that optimise their best interest;
- to set boundaries that are reasonable, respectful and that are established to support rather than limit options;
- to ensure that they know you are open to hearing them and willing to be there for them unconditionally if they make mistakes;
- to be role a model reflective of the behavior you are asking of them; and,
- to ensure that they know that no matter how late the hour or how big the problem you are available for them with love and support.
The legal position for teenagers and alcohol in NSW
- It’s against the law young people under 18 to buy alcohol. It’s also against the law for them to use a fake ID to try and buy alcohol or get into a pub, club or bar.
- It’s against the law young people who are under 18 to be on licensed premises unless they are with a parent, and even then they are not allowed to drink.
- If under 18’s are caught breaking the law, they could be fined, given a caution or warning.
- There are no laws that make it a crime to drink alcohol supplied by parents in a private home BUT parents can get into trouble unless they get permission from the parents of other participating under 18 year olds.
Teenage drinking on private premises
Private premises are places like your home or a friend’s home. There is no law which says teenagers cannot drink on private premises when they are under 18 but the person who gives them the alcohol will be breaking the law, unless:
- the alcohol is supplied by the teenagers parent or guardian; or
- the teenagers parents have told another person it is alright for them to supply their teenager alcohol.
Except in the above circumstances there are heavy penalties if someone gives under 18’s alcohol, even if it is on private premises. The person can be fined or even sent to prison.
Should you have concerns about your teenager or are in need of support please don’t hesitate to contact me for an appointment.
For more information on the legalities of underage drinking go to:
For information on the risks and effects of underage drinking go to;