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Realistic Ways to Talk to Teens About Alcohol

With everything parents worry about, it may surprise you to learn than Australian teenagers generally drink less alcohol today than previous generations did.

Even so, many of us struggle to hit the right note when talking about alcohol with teenage children.

We’ve put together some basic information to help you find the right words.

How much is too much alcohol?

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines, which are under review, recommend that no alcohol is the best option for those under 18. Experts also advise parents and carers to model safe behaviours at home and while socialising.

Many don’t realise the influence their own habits can have. It is also important to be informed about the possible risks and be aware that your child is learning from your behaviour.

What if there’s a problem?

Psychologist Paula Ross says if you suspect your child may have a drug or alcohol problem, don’t make accusations but subtly note any behaviour changes.

“It can be helpful if parents and family members don’t jump to conclusions but instead start a conversation with their child about what might be happening — ‘I notice this, this and this. What is going on?'” she says.

Ms Ross says to stay calm and think about who is best placed to approach your teen empathetically. Expectations must also be realistic.

“You won’t have one conversation and find that your young person says, ‘You’re right, I’ll stop,'” she says.

Ms Ross says there is some debate around whether you disclose your own past (or present) substance use.

“Parents need to walk the line between disclosure with the aim of letting a child know that you understand, versus how much of your disclosure will your child hear as permission-giving,” she says.

Keeping it open and honest

Writer Cheryl Critchley has always spoken openly about alcohol with her children Jess, 21, Bec, 19, and Ben, 17.

“I don’t drink but my husband loves his beer,” she says.

“Our kids know about the pros and cons of drinking and we’ve discussed what we did at their age. We’ve talked about why people feel the need to drink, the dangers of overdoing it, and how alcohol is socially acceptable despite the harm it can cause.

“We also discuss the importance of looking out for each other around alcohol, which Jess and her friends do. She likes to drink but hasn’t had any issues.

“This year has been strange for Bec as she — and others her age — have had their socialising curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions. She has had a few drinks but decided it’s not much fun doing it by Facetime.

“By Ben’s age, most of our generation was drinking. He hasn’t had much if any alcohol yet. Ben likes energy drinks, so we’ve discussed them not having alcohol but being full of caffeine and sugar.”

Signs of misuse

There are no definitive warning signs of alcohol misuse. But a range of signs and behaviours that, combined, may indicate excessive drinking include:

  • Repeated health complaints
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in mood, especially irritability
  • Starting arguments, withdrawing from the family or breaking family rules
  • Dropping grades, frequent school absences or discipline problems at school
  • Changes in social activities and social groups

Learning good habits

When your children are old enough to drink, encourage them to do so responsibly.

The Australian Government’s alcohol and young people page has practical advice around the law, risks and finding help if needed. For example, to avoid or reduce alcohol intake while out you can:

  • Say no to drinks — prepare and practise your responses before you head out
  • Drink something non-alcoholic like a mocktail
  • Choose low-strength alcohol
  • Count standard drinks to keep track
  • Set a limit for yourself

Starting that conversation

Headspace early psychosis services manager Kirsten Cleland says kids can feel uncomfortable speaking about tricky issues, so parents and carers should make themselves available.

“It’s important that you take this opportunity to engage with your young person, as this is the moment when they have come to you for help,” she says.

Ms Cleland says we should ask whether our child wants us to listen or fix something for them, with the aim of enabling them to have a degree of responsibility around decision-making.

“The decision might not be the one we would like, and it might blow up in their face, but as long as it’s not going to do harm then it’s a learning opportunity,” she says.

If you or a family member need help with alcohol issues:

Teens 101 Q&A

How is parenting a teen different from parenting a younger child?

Parenting children of all ages can be hard, but teenagers are often particularly challenging. As well as issues surrounding physical and emotional development, today’s teens must also navigate the online world. The more parents understand about adolescence, the better chance they have of successfully communicating with and guiding their teens through this important time in their lives.

What are the top five biggest mistakes parents make when parenting a teen?

All parents make mistakes and that’s to be expected – none of us are perfect. With teenagers, these may include:

  • Trying to be their friend
  • Too much or not enough discipline
  • Pressuring them to perform
  • Assuming that they don’t want to talk
  • Banning technology as  punishment

How can parents alter their parenting approach to be more effective?

Each child is different, so parents need to learn about their needs and educate themselves about what has worked for others over many years. The advice of qualified experts can be useful in guiding your approach, but your gut feeling and knowledge of your own child are also crucial. For example, an introverted teenager needs a different approach to one who is extroverted.

What do teenagers need most from their parents during their teen years?

Above all else, unconditional love, empathy and support. But teenagers also need and seek boundaries and guidance as they naturally try to assert their independence. The key is balancing these elements and encouraging honest and open communication.

How would Teens 101 help parents?

Modern parenting is a combination of instinct and education. In a fast-changing world, most parents and carers want some help with the many challenges parenting presents, such as deciding how much technology is too much. Teens 101 is full of expert advice, the latest research and case studies that are designed to help educate parents and start important conversations with their teenagers.

Sparking Important Conversations for Families


Helping families to be mentally strong and deal with the “tremendous challenges” they face is close to the heart of retired businessman and director David Corduff.

The grandfather of seven, volunteer, Beyond Blue Speaker and now Parent Guides ambassador
is passionate about mental health. He often sees parents, carers and children struggle to cope
with social media, cyber bullying, drugs, gambling, mental health, and respect.

“Parents need as much support and information as possible to be there for their children when
life challenges occur,” David says. “In an ever-changing world, parents need to access factual,
research-based information such as the Parent Guides.”

 

Run by Melbourne media identity Eileen Berry, Parent Guides help parents educate themselves about drugs, sex, social media, mental health and more. They present up-to-date research and expert advice in a ‘no holds barred’ way that tackles difficult issues and facilitates conversations.

“It is critical to have a resource such as the Guides, which are in hard copy and easily accessible to parents and children,” David says. “They are not ‘preachy’ and do not seek to offer solutions as such. They lead the way as a tool to initiate conversations between parents and children.”

David worked in manufacturing and has three children and seven grandchildren. Married to Liz for 45 years, he arrived from Ireland in 1971 and became an Australian citizen in 1988.

He is an advisor to the board at Presentation Family Centre on the Mornington Peninsula, which offers short-term low-cost respite facilities for families affected by adverse conditions. David also serves on the committee of community organisation Peninsula Voice.

David has had a long association with Parent Guides CEO Yvonne Hackett and more recently Eileen Berry. He says their publications are “top class, relevant and well researched”.

“They fill a gap in terms of parent/child communication, and I believe my life experience,
particularly within the mental health space, will be invaluable in promoting the publications and ’spreading the word’,” he says.

“They are an excellent resource and can fundamentally make a difference to the parent/child relationship.”

David is also a fan of Alan Hopgood’s superb play about suicide, Jess Chooses Life, and wants to see it and Parent Guides promoted more widely, particularly in schools.

“Life is always full of challenges,” David says. “It is our response to these challenges that determine whether the outcomes are good or not so good. In the critical parent/child relationship, it is very important to have resources such as the Parent Guides available, to underpin a supportive and potentially positive outcome.”

Parent Guides and Health Play


Parent Guides & HealthPlay

Parent Guides are a proud supporter of HealthPlay, a contemporary theatre company based in Melbourne.

In 2019, Parent Guides partnered with Healthy Play to deliver a successful play about mental health and teenage bullying. You can read more about the successful event here.

With their unique and humorous approach to health issues, they are writing and performing plays to educate and entertain. You can learn more about their four mental health plays for 2020 and previous plays below, and visit their website for bookings.

Parents Must Model Respectful Behaviour


Parent Guides “tell it like it is”.

With the consequences of bad behaviour and broken relationships in the media spotlight, a new guide aims to help parents and carers to develop in their children a sense of respect.

Melbourne media identity Eileen Berry says many topical issues, such as violence against women and generally abusive behaviour, stem from a lack of respect. She says most people are respectful, but a significant minority do not demonstrate it in public or at home.

“This can result in sexism, racism, violence and other destructive behaviours,” she says.

Respect 101 is the latest in Eileen’s Parent Guides series. It helps families define respect and encourage it in their children. “Respect 101 identifies what respectful behaviour is, how to turn disrespectful into respectful, how to create life-long relationships and how to embed respect within the culture of adolescence,” Eileen says.

Read more

Suicide – It’s Time We Talked



See the Play on the 29th of March. At Sacred Heart College, Retreat Road, Newtown – Geelong. Register and Get Your Free Tickets!

 

It’s time to talk about suicide:

A new and engaging production that combines a play about suicide with a panel of mental health experts will connect and bring people together in local communities.

Read more

Mental Health 101: Experts to discuss stress and anxiety.


A local library will tackle the important issue of youth mental health and well-being, with an open and interactive free information evening. This event will be for teenagers, their parents and carers.

Casey Cardinia Libraries will host Mental Health 101: Stress and Anxiety. Based on the Mental Health 101 parent guide produced by Melbourne media identity Eileen Berry.

The event, held on 28 March, will discuss mental health and related issues such as drugs, sex and social media.

Eileen will join an expert panel from Headspace and PoPsy to inform and spark conversations about how to manage mental health and well-being.

She says mental health is a huge concern for young people, with suicide the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15-44 (source: ABS).

“Parents and carers want to know how they can help their kids become resilient, minimise mental health issues and deal with them when they do arise,” Eileen says. “We want to encourage important conversations between adults and kids that can help achieve this.”

Read more

Children Need to Experience Failure to Thrive


Helicopter parents take an overactive and excessive interest in their child’s life.

All parents want the best for their child but they can become over-involved, smothering, overbearing, interfering and over-controlling. I also call them tow-truck parents because they wait for an accident to happen and then steam in and clear up the mess.

They have clear opinions about who is the right teacher for their child, what sport they should play, they want their child to be in the popular group and they offer disproportionate assistance, rather than allowing their teenager space.

These parents don’t enjoy uncertainty, so they over-prepare and supervise intensely and interfere with their child’s opportunity to do something for themselves and to deal with the natural consequences of their actions. Read more

I Was Bullied My Whole Life


Keiah Smith endured years of bullying through primary school and high school. She became depressed and attempted suicide.

I was bullied my whole life but it got particularly bad when I was ten and revealed I’d been sexually abused. I told a friend and it spread around the school and I was called a ‘slut’. I was also overweight and picked on for that, too.

At high school, I was regularly bashed. Mum and Dad told the school it wasn’t acceptable but it continued. I was bashed walking to class, during lunch and when I retaliated, I was suspended. It was heartbreaking and it’s hard to put into words how I felt. Read more

Youth Mental Health in the Spotlight


Parent Guides: ‘Tell it like it is’.

‘Honest and open conversation is a must for parents and carers dealing with teenagers mental health issues.’ Says a new resource that tells it like it is.

Melbourne media identity Eileen Berry says ‘Suicide, anxiety, depression, ADHD, self-harm, eating disorders and other mental illnesses are all taking a terrible toll on young people.’

But she says parents can help minimise these and other issues by educating themselves about building resilience in children by knowing how to approach problems if they arise.
Read more

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