Alcohol and our kids

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about alcohol and my kids. Sure, Mitch is only ten but I like to be prepared. Actually, I’m never at all well prepared for anything but given how completely unprepared I was when I had kids, I’m making up for no effort!

I imagine teenage-land is a scary place – for kids and for us parents watching our kids go through so many changes. I was a teenager once, but apart from being moody at times (what’s changed really) I don’t remember it being tooooo angsty. Mum and dad will may disagree!

One thing which scares me more than anything else is alcohol and binge drinking and the risk-taking behaviour that goes with it; the experimentation, the testing of boundaries and the questioning of authority which is a rite of passage for teenagers – you know, normal stuff for building their independence. Drugs and smoking worry me too, but I’ll stick with alcohol for this one.

I remember drinking most weekends when I was in my late teens, then into my 20s and boy those late 20s at Channel 7 were non-stop. Classic binge drinker – only on weekends. But I could never drink too much because I’d throw up. Every. Single. Time. So I guess in some ways I was lucky because my body didn’t allow me to drink too much so I never really felt out of control. And it’s funny because a lot of the time, after a couple of hours out, all I’d want to do is go home and read a book and make myself a grilled toasted cheese sandwich with those plastic Kraft Singles. Wasn’t really up with the introvert/extrovert thing back then. If I’m completely honest with myself, I probably drank to make it easier to deal with being out and about amongst a lot of people. Perceived peer pressure too. I drank because everybody else did and it was fun, despite the inevitable spew. (Yes, I’m all Klass.)

These days I rarely drink. And yep, I’m the odd one out. People all around me guzzling alcohol and being loud, funny, extroverted and me: quiet, not so funny and completely introverted but thankfully in a space where it doesn’t matter to me that I’m the odd one out. That’s the old belonging versus fitting in thing I blogged about previously.

My kids will feel the pressure though. Teens just want to fit in. Generally, they couldn’t really give a stuff about what their parents say or try to teach them. So I did some research about talking to your teen about alcohol. Here’s some nifty tips from the Drug Info website if you could be bothered reading them, otherwise scroll through:

Make sure you are well informed

  • If your teenager asks you a question and you aren’t sure of the answer, don’t just guess. Be honest, admit that you don’t know, and look for the answer together, using information from books, the internet, or a health professional. This shows them how they can uncover reliable health information in the future.
  • Give your child an informal quiz about issues and scenarios involving alcohol and other drugs, to highlight some of the important information they will need to know. You are likely to learn a lot too.
  • Remember that, as they get older, young people will make their own decisions about whether or not they will drink alcohol. It is important that you teach them how to stay safe, and minimise the effects, if they do end up drinking.

Be involved in their lives

  • Get to know their friends, so that you always know who they are with and where they are going.
  • Make an effort to get to know their friends’ parents. This keeps communication open and can be a great support when you are facing difficult situations.

Get them to talk

Sometimes young people are reluctant to talk to their parents about sensitive issues. Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Start talking openly about alcohol when they are young so they understand it is not a taboo subject when they are older.
  • Pick the right time. Don’t try to talk about emotional issues when either of you is hungry, tired, upset, under the influence of alcohol, or if friends are present.
  • Spend time with your children to build your relationship and to allow plenty of time for incidental chats. For example, walking the dog together, travelling in the car or playing a sport or game together are situations where they are more likely to remain present.
  • Try to eat dinner together as a family, and discuss what each of you has been doing.
  • Try to keep a weekly block of time for family activities.
  • Use prompts from television, advertising or newspapers to start a discussion.
  • Take advantage of times when they want you to do something for them, as they may be more likely to be cooperative.
  • Importantly, don’t make every quiet time you are together a time for deep discussion or they may begin to avoid those situations.

Set a good example

Teenagers can spot a hypocrite a mile away, so make sure you set a good example if you want them to make good choices. Model sensible drinking practices by:

  • Drinking sensibly and keeping track of the number of standard drinks you are consuming.
  • Showing them how to refuse a drink that is offered by a friend. Adults can find this hard enough, so imagine how difficult it must be for a young person fighting for acceptance from peers.
  • Showing them the size of a “standard drink”. Many adults are surprised to see that a standard drink is often a lot smaller than the standard serve in a glass, can or bottle. This will make it easier for them to keep track of how much they are drinking, when the day comes.
  • Being aware of the words and descriptions you are using when you talk about alcohol. For example, when you say, “This has been a really tough week, I need a drink!”, you are giving a clear message about the role of alcohol.

When you finally get to talk

  • Make sure you listen to them, and don’t just do all the talking yourself.
  • Give feedback. Nod and ask questions so they know you are really listening.
  • Try not to preach, as that may just encourage them to rebel.
  • Remember to give positive feedback when they have made good decisions.
  • Resist bringing up past mistakes.
  • Remember that limit testing and experimentation is a normal part of growing up.
  • Consider the pressure they are under from their peers, and from the media and advertising. This doesn’t mean you should give in to their demands, but it can help you to understand the pressures they are feeling.

What to talk about

  • Be honest about the enjoyable, and the less enjoyable, sides of drinking alcohol and they are more likely to trust what you say.
  • Talk about the effects of alcohol. The dangers and safety issues such as aggression, reduced inhibitions, poor judgement, and the feeling of regretting their actions the next day.
  • Make sure they understand that no matter what happens, they can call you at any time if they are in trouble or feel unsafe.
  • Talk about how to deal with peer pressure. This is hard enough for adults to deal with, so they could probably use your support.
  • Talk about drink spiking, and the importance of friends looking out for each other.
  • Discuss the types of drinks they might be offered—particularly the “alcopops” that taste sweet but have a high alcohol content.
  • Let them know you don’t support their drinking, and that if they drink heavily or frequently they will need to get help from a health professional.
  • Set firm limits, and if two parents are involved, make sure you support each other.

So, not much really! I don’t care what people do and the amount they drink as long as they don’t get in a car or decide to belt someone who looks at them the wrong way – but sometimes I find myself wondering why people seem to drink so much. Is it to help them relax, fit in, love the taste? All of the above I imagine. But then I remember my chocolate addiction and the fact it’s my version of a glass of wine to reward myself for getting through the day so I do get it. I had to really question my motives about why I kept drinking when it made me so ill (I think we’ve all figured out by now that I don’t just stop at one) and it was really just to fit in – because everyone did it and I didn’t want to be seen as someone different (you know, a boring, introverted sober person!) It’s only in the past few years that I’ve felt comfortable enough with my boringness and introversion not to worry about it and now I’ll only binge on the odd occasion because I really feel like it and not for any other reason.

I hope my kids feel comfortable in their own skins without having to completely over-indulge to the point of blacking out or doing something stupid. Hopefully Anth and I can be some sort of role models in terms of why we drink and why we don’t. God knows I’ve completely failed in the non-swearing role model thing. Fuck it.

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4 Responses to Alcohol and our kids

  1. Lisa says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Great Blog as usual.
    All really good sound advice….but not all parents follow through. Watch for the parents that host the parties.(particularly summer pool parties) and think they are being responsible by letting them get wasted under their roof….and then you find out your kid nearly drowned!

    Some other tips…. don’t be afraid to call & ask
    * Will parents actually be there supervising the party?
    * is alchohol is being served or allowed to be brought in…and in what quantiies?
    * For a land line to the house where the party is held….mobile phones…are well, mobile and kids can say they are somewhere they are not!

    *if you do not know the parents, knock on the door to introduce yourself.
    *Always have a clear set curfew time appropiate to the age of your child…and yep…talk to other parents to try & keep everyone on the same page.

    * Set limits…during school term, one going out night over the weekend only.

    * As much as possible, even though it can get annoying, pick your own kid up ( even if it means you have to drop off others)

    * Never let your kid stay over night at a party where alcohol has been served… picking them up, they are less likely to get wasted.

    * Be aware that sometimes your kids want you to say no…and don’t be afraid to say no if you are not entirely comfortable with a scenario, which on the face of it sounds plausible..even if you can’t quite say why!…Parents gut instinct is a powerful thing!!!

    * COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION…let them know how you feel and listen to how they feel.

    And just another thing….try and purchase your own drinks if you can, when the kids are not with you. Drive throughs are such handy things…..but when the attendent leaned in to ask what I wanted ” A small voice in the back seat piped “Houghtons sav blanc please” I was mortified!

    ” Oh and sport, sport,sport or an activity that that takes up a lot of time over the weekend! It is amazing how many teenage kids are less likey to drink heavily and be responsible, if they have to get up to play sport or attrend a rehearsal in the morning.

    And for those summer days when the teenage girls & boys decide to go down the beach with a group of friends. a boom box, cricket set,frisby & an esky to keep the “soft drinks” cool…check the esky if it is leaving from your house…and perhaps take a random walk down the beach smile and wave as you pass by. Randomness helps keeps the kids a little more honest about what is in that esky!!

    Oh Lisa, Sorry, have gone on for a bit, but this has been an issue close to my heart. I have steered 2 kids through to their 2o’s, Matt put us through the ringer for a bit…boys and risk taking!!!….but no drugs thankfully….and then there is Hamish at 11 waiting in the wings. And of course he is going be the perfect teenage angel….Yeah, right!!!
    Lisa S 🙂

  2. Sal Stewart says:

    Thank you both LISA & LISA, I have shown quite a few friends your very thought provoking advice.

    From a legal prespective it is worth noting that you have to supply written permission for your minor (ie under-18-year-old) to drink in somebody else’s home. Add also the fact that as a parent it is actully against the law for you to purchase alcohol for your minor and it should therefore be almost impossible for these teenagers to drink! Sadly it always looks good on paper but not necessarily work out in real life.

    I am very conscious of the fact that we often entertain on a large scale at home and there is always alcohol involved: Lisa B I hope you didn’t feel too much peer group pressure after I hassled you to drink a glass of bubbles….. I always prefer to have people at our house so I can put my kids into their beds at the right bedtime and that they don’t see any effects of post 9pm champagne drinking.
    My 10 year old has been invited to her first Saturday night party so I can see that the days of me being able to go out myself are starting to die off as I’ll be the one driving them around.

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks Sally, who would have known about the written permission law. And don’t worry about offering me bubbles, I didn’t feel any pressure. Quite often those offering are people who don’t know I don’t drink that much. My friends have given up on me!

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