The realities

The reality is that adolescents’ alcohol consumption is increasing alarmingly (particularly among girls). Parties/social events from the age of 13 (and younger) very often include alcohol. It is smuggled in, delivered to the gate, and quite often even supplied by the parents/hosts. At school, kids arrive with alcohol-laced juice bottles. Parents say that if they try to ban alcohol from a party they’re told that “no-one will come”, that they’re forcing their child to commit “social suicide”, and that “everyone drinks wherever we go, it’s the norm”.

School counsellors report a distressing increase in teen alcohol-related problems including sexual abuse and rape; drug use; sexual experimentation (plus resulting trauma through disease, pregnancy or regret); declining school marks; theft of valuables; and alcoholism. A great number of the problems expressed by teenagers have their roots in alcohol abuse. Heavy drinking by girls is also causing medical concerns about the future impact on health and fertility.

Why do teens like to drink?

When questioned about why they drink, teens say: “it gives me confidence; lets me fit in; makes me feel grown-up; tastes good; dulls the pain; everyone’s drinking”. Thomas Burkhalter comments: “This is a very complex topic that involves many aspects: Protecting the child from exposure; education; building self-esteem; acknowledging vulnerabilities etc. I would like to illustrate one point in this regard, and that is parental involvement. Given that it is unavoidable that our children will come into contact with alcohol, and drugs for that matter, it is crucial for us to think about how we can help them negotiate this reality, safely and realistically.

What can we do as parents?

We would hope that our children would abstain until older, but not all children will. You need to be interested and involved in your child’s life. Have a sense of what they are thinking, care about where they are and what they are doing, and open up the issue of drugs and alcohol. In so doing do not make alcohol bad (because you presumably drink, as do their friends), but talk about why we drink, what purpose it serves, what purpose it may serve for them. Talk about the function of drinking in their peer groups and what it means not to drink. These are realities to them that we need to acknowledge and respect. If the adolescent feels that the parent is out of touch with his/her reality, that they don’t understand the pressures on the ground, whatever advice they have to offer will seem irrelevant even if wise. Further, remember that our children watch us and model on us, and our relationship to alcohol will be noted by them.”

Counselors also ask that parents: enforce “no-booze” at parties; adhere to clubs’ age restrictions; and communicate with other parents to avoid being pressured to give in “because everyone else is allowed”. Requests have also been received for the Forum to be used, once it’s large enough, to address concerns with alcohol distributors, clubs, media and other influential bodies.

More info

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