How to talk to your kids about drinking

Alcohol consumption among young people is the lowest it’s been since the early 1960s, but even still, if there’s ever a time and place your kids are likely to experiment, it’s Schoolies week.

The end-of-school rite of passage has been synonymous with binge drinking since it began 40 years ago. But Schoolies week needn’t be seven days of gut-wrenching anxiety the key is to have open and honest dialogue with your children in the lead up. “Sometimes timing is everything, so make sure it's just the two of you, and that you have their full attention,” says Matt Williams, a counsellor from Kids Helpline. “Share your feelings from an honest place of concern and voice your thoughts and fears around anything you are observing.” Here Matt shares his top tips on how to speak to your kids about drinking.

1. Remember experimentation is normal

“It is really natural for teenagers to want to experiment and try things out, and drinking can be a part of that experimenting. More often than not, teenagers will have varying levels of comfort around this experimentation, so some warning signs include withdrawing from parents and peers, evading questions, the presence of alcohol on their breath, slurred speech, sudden and significant changes to friendship groups, as well as changes to appearance. This might include a sloppier appearance for example.”

2. Get clear on what your boundaries are around booze and stick to them

“Having a few sips of something with parental supervision can for a large portion of young people satisfy that curiosity urge and actually in most cases lead to fewer instances of problematic or binge drinking.”

3. Be honest about the risks 

“Some of the major risks associated with drinking at a young age include the fact that it can trigger genetic predispositions to some mental health conditions that lay dormant within people. Excessive drinking can bring these conditions to the surface. Another major risk factor is that drinking can create impaired cognitive function and affect a whole range of the thought processes associated with making choices that would usually involve positive emotional well-being, so setting healthy boundaries for example.”

4. ...But don’t get too aggressive

“Start from a very low-key relaxed place and listen without judgement. Try not to exaggerate the dangers of drinking but be realistic and transparent about some of the more common risks. It’s also important to remind and reassure them that you are there to support them if they have a problem with drinking. Have a think about some of the concrete ways you can help to support them as well.”

5. Acknowledge the power of peer pressure

"Social aspects of peer acceptance through drinking and normalising excessive drinking can be one of the major factors in whether drinking becomes problematic, because as people age, the influence of parents can often be reduced and replaced by people within their social circle. It is important to note though that in Australia over 70 % of young people can experiment with drinking and it does not lead to excessive drinking.”

If you're worried about your teens drinking or just need some non-judgmental support, call Parentline. Kids Helpline is Australia's only free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged 5 to 25 years, FREE call 1800 55 1800.

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