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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.

Everything You Need To Know About Teenagers


Everything you need to know about teenagers – and more 

Teens 101 tackles drugs, social media, sex, mental health, and respect

Parenting teenagers is more challenging than ever in the coronavirus (COVID-19) age. 

The usual issues such as anxiety, experimentation, peer pressure and cyber bullying, have in many cases been compounded by the global pandemic and resulting social isolation.

Now, more than ever, parents are looking for support and guidance. Known for its factual and non-preachy guides Drugs 101, Social Media 101, Sex 101, Mental Health 101 and Respect 101, Parent Guides has combined them to produce a compendium, Teens 101.  

The 180-page reference book draws upon the latest research, expert advice, and practical resources to help parents and carers navigate the teen years and start important conversations with their children. No holds are barred, and no topic is shirked.

“We tell it how it is,” says founder and Melbourne media identity Eileen Berry. “We inform parents and carers about what drugs their kids might take, what they are doing online, how likely they are to be having sex and, most importantly, how to discuss all this rationally with them.

Teens 101 covers all the bases and will be a valuable resource for parents, carers, schools, universities and other organisations that support families. Our goal is to spark meaningful conversations between parents, carers and their young people.”

Parent Guides is a not-for-profit organisation that has provided resources for nearly six years. The guides help parents and carers educate themselves about teen issues, and in some cases have prompted expert panel nights at schools.

The new compendium resource is ideal for schools, universities, libraries, and family support organisations. Special bundle packages have been developed to make them affordable.

“We want as many families as possible to benefit,” Eileen says. “With COVID-19 potentially amplifying issues faced by teenagers, practical and useful advice from respected experts is more important than ever.”

For more details: Eileen Berry, Parent Guides Founder & Ph: 0407 542 655 

Contact us via the contact form.

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.”

Guiding Families Through Coronavirus


Talking honestly with children about the current health crisis may help to reduce any anxiety they may be experiencing.

While the coronavirus pandemic threatens the physical health of people globally, it is also affecting our mental health.

This makes starting a conversation with children about the risks and possible consequences of COVID-19 without instilling panic a challenge.

The Australian Psychological Society says as the number of cases rises the level of anxiety within the community rises.

It advises families to keep things in perspective, limit related media exposure and seek facts from reliable sources such as the Australian Government’s health alert or the World Health Organization.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

“Children will inevitably pick up on the concerns and anxiety of others, whether this be through listening and observing what is happening at home or at school,” the APS says.

“It is important that they can speak to you about their own concerns. Answer their questions. Do not be afraid to talk about the coronavirus with children.

“Providing opportunities to answer their questions in an honest and age-appropriate way can help reduce any anxiety they may be experiencing.”

RESOURCES

The Australian Government’s Department of Health has developed a collection of resources for the general public, health professionals and industry about coronavirus (COVID-19), including translated resources.

See: http://bit.ly/39ZISDx

World Health Organization updates can be found here: https://bit.ly/3cQUwCw

DISCUSSING COVID-19 WITH CHILDREN

  • Speak to them about coronavirus in a calm manner.
  • Ask them what they already know about the virus so you can clarify any misunderstandings they may have.
  • Let them know that it is normal to experience some anxiety when new and stressful situations arise.
  • Give them a sense of control by explaining what they can do to stay safe (e.g., wash their hands regularly, stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing).
  • Don’t overwhelm them with unnecessary information (e.g., death rates) as this can increase their anxiety.
  • Reassure them that coronavirus is less common and severe in children compared to adults.
  • Allow regular contact (e.g., by phone & video call) with people they may worry about, such as grandparents, to reassure them that they are ok.

Download this blog post as a free flyer here:

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Jess Chooses Life


Jess Chooses Life – A Play About Overcoming Bullying and Mental Health

Parent Guides is very proud and excited to be involved in delivering the play ‘Jess Chooses Life’ – to be performed Wednesday 19 Feb 2020, at 7 pm, at McKinnon Secondary College, Melbourne. 

Admission is free, and the play will be accompanied by a meaningful discussion alongside mental health professionals.

Use the following link to book your FREE tickets: https://www.trybooking.com/BHQJH

Get FREE Tickets

Some words from Angus (Gus) Clelland, Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health Victoria:

“In 2018 there were 3,046 deaths by suicide, and 458 of these were young people under 25 years of age.

In the face of this national tragedy, both the Federal Government and the Victorian Government have made mental health and suicide prevention top priorities.

Community, family and friends are fundamentally important when it comes to suicide prevention.

With this in mind, Mental Health Victoria – the peak body for mental health organisations – is very pleased to commend the collaboration of Health Play, Parent Guides and PoPsy to produce Jess Chooses Life, a sensitive and thought-provoking play that examines the pressures faced by young people and how parents can broach challenging topics such as mental health and suicide.

The format of the production – which includes audience discussion supported by mental health professionals – is highly engaging and thought-provoking, while being sensitive and supportive to audience members who may have lived experience.”

View the video testimonials from the previous play: https://vimeo.com/327637872/a0f46a1fc9

Raising Respectful Teens


Recently, Parent Guides was featured in the Star Weekly and Domain Magazine. See the full article below along with clippings and images of the article attached.

 

How to help kids navigate the teenage abyss with respect for themselves and others.

Building resilience
Instilling strong values, helping to build resilience and providing support when needed is critical in helping children to develop self-confidence. This is equally important for girls and boys. Resilience is about being realistic, thinking rationally, looking on the bright side, finding the positives, expecting things to go well and moving forward, even when things seem bad.

Being yourself
Openly supporting diversity will help your child accept who they are, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.

Raising boys
Traditional gender roles have changed but society still often considers it a sign of weakness if a boy shows emotion. It is crucial that boys (and girls) learn about empathy, expression and mental health strategies. They need to know it is OK to cry, how to articulate fears and anxieties, and to seek help if they need it.

Raising girls
Some teen girls still hear messages about what they can or cannot do, or how they are to blame for bad experiences, such as sexual harassment. Teaching them that they can reject gender stereotypes and control their destiny can help boost their confidence.

Raising children
Self-respect is a great building block for resilience, says Associate Professor Julie Green, the executive director at raisingchildren.net.au. “Teens can build self-respect by setting their standards for behaviour,” she says. “If your teen has self-respect, they believe they matter and should be treated respectfully by others.” Associate Professor Green says parents and carers are role models, so their teen should see and hear outlooks that are positive and optimistic. Good, honest communication is also crucial. Tackling difficult conversations with your child indicates a healthy relationship. “If you’re warm, accepting, non-judgmental and uncritical, and also open to negotiating and setting limits, your child is likely to feel more connected to you,” Associate Professor Green says. If potential mental health issues arise, Associate Professor Green recommends talking to them and seeing a health professional together. This will also reassure them that they are not alone. “You could start by talking to your GP, your child’s school counsellor, teacher or other school staff. GPs and other health professionals can suggest strategies and give advice,” she says.

Sexuality
Education and communication are key in helping young people embrace their sexuality, and to respect that of others. Family Planning Victoria recommends parents and carers educate themselves and clarify their values and messages before talking openly and honestly with their young person. It is also important to support their right to develop healthy, respectful and consensual sexual relationships and not assume everyone is opposite-sex attracted or the gender assigned at birth. Accept that young people may have different views to yours and take a positive approach that acknowledges that sexual activity and experimentation can be a healthy part of adolescence. Everyday moments, such as watching TV news or other shows, can be good starting points from which to ask your young person what they are thinking or feeling.

Promoting self-confidence
A key to respecting yourself is having confidence in yourself. As parents, we play a pivotal role in developing our children’s self-confidence. Self-confidence can be encouraged at home through the acceptance of who a child is as a person and by promoting healthy eating alongside appropriate physical and mental activity. Help is also out there if needed – Beyond Blue has a youth program and both the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and the national Office of the eSafety Commissioner work to reduce bullying.

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