It’s important that teens know the ground rules, and the consequences of not sticking to them. The more parents are involved in setting and monitoring boundaries, the less likely young people are to get into trouble with alcohol.1
Marking the boundaries
Successful ground rules depend on two things. First, teens need to know the rules; but it’s also critical that they understand why the rules exist and how to exercise some autonomy within the boundaries.
Teens thrive when they have a sense of belonging, so set family rules that apply to everyone. This makes everyone in the family accountable to the group, rather than pitting your teen against you in a 1:1 battle between lawmaker and subject. It also means there are no double-standards in the household, and sets a benchmark for you to be a great role model.
Eat a meal together before they venture out
Know where they’re going
Talk to the host parents about supervision and their expectations for the young people in their care. Drop them off too so both the hosts and your teen can see that you are actively interested.
Before they go out eat a meal together. It’s a good opportunity to discuss their plans for the night in a relaxed setting. Share their enthusiasm to prompt honest conversation. It also means you know you’re sending them out with a full stomach!
Have a plan
Agree with your teen how much they will drink, and where they will be getting their drinks from. This will force them to think about how they want their night to turn out. Having agreed expectations also creates a benchmark against which you can discuss their behaviour later.
Make sure your children know you are always available to collect them if they want to come home early. And have the same expectation of them. Tell them to keep their mobiles on and answer if you call.
Curfew and getting home
Agree the time they will be leaving the party, and pick them up or know who is collecting them. If older teens are using public transport, or driving themselves, know what service they are catching and when to expect them.
In case of emergency
Have a code word your teen can use in a phone call if they want to be rescued from a situation but don’t want to look stupid. Also make sure they know they can always catch a taxi home on the promise that you will pay for it.
Invite their friends
Create a welcoming atmosphere for your childrens’ friends so staying at home and having their friends over is a good option. The closer they are to you the better you can monitor their behavior.
Talk to other parents
Having an open dialogue with other parents will help you understand their expectations of their children, their attitude to teen drinking, and ensure they understand what to expect from you.
When you’re hosting a party at home, monitor how much alcohol is coming in, or if you are serving drinks make sure you have the express consent of the parents of other children (learn about your legal obligations).
Put on a spread
Always serve food and an appealing selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Start the food early, and make sure it’s hearty and protein–rich. Think pizzas, sausage rolls and chicken wings! Also arrange entertainment like music and movies to take the emphasis off drinking.
Get them home safely
Agree in advance with your teen what time the party will end, and make sure all of your guests have a safe way home. If in doubt, call their parents, drop them home or get them to stay over.
Ask them to suggest an appropriate sanction
When they cross the line
No matter how clearly you’ve set the boundaries, nor how well informed your children are, they will test the limits.
If they overstep the mark, don’t talk about it in the heat of the moment (everyone knows you can’t reason with a drunk!). Make time to have a sober conversation the next day, and seek to understand their perception of what happened before sharing yours.
Have a clear idea of what would be a reasonable consequence before you start the conversation, but ask them to suggest an appropriate sanction. If they can reflect on what happened, and accept that they broke the rules, there’s a better chance they’ll learn from the mistake.
It’s important to understand though that peer pressure can be extremely stressful for teens, and most of their behavior (good and bad!) is driven by wanting to fit in and be accepted.
If they’ve behaved irresponsibly with alcohol then talk the situation through, reiterate the risks of their behavior, and agree a better way to deal with things next time.
Under the Sale & Supply of Alcohol Act the minimum legal age for the purchase of alcohol in New Zealand is 18 years. New Zealand has no minimum legal drinking age.
In other words, although those under 18 are unable to legally purchase alcohol themselves, they are legally permitted to drink in a number of environments.
It is illegal for anyone to supply alcohol to someone under 18 without the consent of their parent or guardian.
Your children should know that there are laws restricting the age at which you can buy and drink alcohol because it is a mind-altering drug, and whether they are allowed to drink is a decision their parents make.
What the experts have to say…
Graeme Dingle (ONZM, MBE)
Founder, Graeme Dingle Foundation - www.dinglefoundation.org.nz
Being an engaged parent means: communicating well with your children; listening to your children - this is perhaps the most important part of communication; be truly interested in what your children do; have fun with your children; encourage your children; avoid criticising your children, particularly when they are very young —encouragement and celebrating success is proven to help brain development; be prepared to say ‘I’m sorry’; and no matter what they do make it clear you still love them.
- From Alcohol in Moderation: An investigation into substance abuse among young people found that when parental monitoring is in place — that is knowing where their children are, and who they're with — they are much less likely to begin using drugs. Another report found that in 30 out of 31 countries surveyed young people consumed significantly more alcohol when their parents did not know how they spent Saturday nights. (Alcohol in Moderation, Helena Conibear, PO Box 2282, Bath BA1 7AQ, United Kingdom. June 2008).