Moving to secondary school or the sixth form can lead to a wider pool of peers and friends, who can influence our kids. We already know that both children and parents overestimate the number of teenagers who get drunk or smoke – as we tend to notice them more. In line with government guidance, most under 16s don’t drink, and for those that do, it’s rarely, on a special occasion with friends and relatives. However, your children may aspire to be part of what they see as the cool gang who hang out at the park or have wild parties. This advice may help:
Peers are a major influence during adolescence
As your child approaches adolescence, friends and “fitting in” become really important and being accepted by peers can be difficult. Your teenager’s friends are a major influence on their decisions about alcohol – as your child is more likely to drink if their friends do. Despite the growing influence of peers, you can still have a positive impact – and be the biggest influence on your teenager’s alcohol use. A good relationship with them will reduce any negative influence from their friends, so they feel they can talk about their worries and pressure they might be facing. Allow them to blame you if you don’t want them to go to a party, or insist on picking them up and speaking to host parents too. If you’re happy for them to go – you can arm them with excuses such as an early start for a sports fixture, or going out the next day. Do encourage them to explore www.talkaboutalcohol.com which has some great interactive games and quizzes that can be played on phones or ipads.
Encourage positive friendships
Get to know your teenager’s friends. Encourage your teenager to invite their friends over when you are at home. This will allow you to get to know them all better and give you an insight about what they get up to and what’s important to them. Good food and movies or an X box always help! Talk to your adolescent about qualities that really count in a friend, such as being kind and trustworthy, rather than popular and “cool”.
Enlist the support of other parents
Build a support network with other parents and carers. The families of your teenager’s friends may have different values and attitudes regarding alcohol compared to yours and this could cause some difficulty in maintaining rules on alcohol for your adolescent, so checking with other parents about sleepovers, house parties or what’s happening is really important, as our teenagers often tell us what we want to hear rather than what might really be going on!
Dealing with peer pressure to drink
Your teenager may find themselves in situations where it is difficult for them to say no to alcohol, because of peer pressure. Try to prepare them by focusing on specific situations that they may encounter and talk about different ways they can deal with peer pressure to drink. Tell your adolescent that the decision whether to drink or not is theirs, and not their friends’. Help them develop ways to say no to offers of alcohol before they are faced with situations where this may occur. There are some good alcohol free beers, virgin cocktails and ciders too that could help them fit in. One in five young adults don’t drink, so it’s more and more acceptable to be having a great time while staying hydrated with water or soft drinks! Remember that peers can also be a positive influence too. Encourage your child to support others who experience peer pressure to consume alcohol.
Be a good role model
Parents are important role models for their children, even during adolescence. Your attitude towards alcohol, what you drink, how much, when and where are all a major influence on whether or how your teenager will drink in the future. This influence begins at a very early age. Warning your child about the dangers of drinking will not be effective if you do not set a good example yourself!
Tips for modelling responsible drinking:
- Don’t get drunk, especially in front of your children
- Sometimes decline the offer of alcohol
- Provide food and non-alcoholic beverages when making alcohol available to guests
- Never drink and drive
- Try not to convey to your children the idea that alcohol is fun or glamorous through stories about your own or others’ drinking
- Do not portray alcohol as a good way to deal with stress, such as by saying, “I’ve had a bad day, I need a drink!”
- Use healthy ways to cope with stress without alcohol, such as exercise, listening to music, or talking things over.
Monitor your child
Teenagers are more likely to experiment with alcohol when adults are not around, especially at places like parks or the beach, or at each other’s houses. Knowing and checking where they are and who they are with really reduces the likelihood of them getting into trouble, whether it involves alcohol or not.
Before your adolescent goes out, you should:
- Ask them where they will be, what they will be doing, and who they will be with
- Set a curfew and know what time to expect them home
- Make arrangements with them about how they will get home safely
- Make sure they have a way to contact you
- Ask them to contact you if their plans change
- If you are giving them money, discuss how much they will need and how it will be spent.
It’s not because you are nosey, but because you care about their safety. Most teenagers do moan, but do really appreciate you monitoring their activities and see it as proof of their parents’ concern for their wellbeing. Be aware though, that being overly strict or harsh may cause you them to rebel. Try to balance your approach while respecting their need for privacy and adjust your approach as they mature to encourage their growing independence.