The right time to introduce your teens to alcohol will be different from one family to the next. The important thing is that you are the one to give them the facts.
The human brain, and most importantly the decision-making and rational thinking functions, continues to develop until we are in our twenties. This is why young people often make bad choices and take risks.
It’s also why it is important to delay your teen’s introduction to drinking as long as possible. When push comes to shove, alcohol is a mind-altering drug. And, put simply, teens are not able to make good decisions about drinking until their brain finishes developing.
Learning about alcohol
By their very nature, the teenage years are filled with experimentation and risk taking as young people bridge the divide between childhood and adulthood.
Teens are naturally curious about the adult world, which includes alcohol. You are not going to be with them every time they socialise, so the best thing you can do prepare them to make good drinking.
As a parent or guardian you want them to get accurate and complete information about how alcohol affects the body and mind. They also need to be armed with ideas for making good decisions to keep themselves safe if they’re drinking.
Making sure they get the right information, from you, means you need to front foot the conversation before someone else does.
Letting them drink
There is no agreed age at which it is considered ‘normal’ for children to drink. Some parents allow their children to try a little drink with them on special occasions; others prefer not to.
There is some evidence that shows drinking at an earlier age increases the possibility of alcohol-related harm later on, but other studies show young people introduced to drinking in the home, with good parental role models, are less likely to binge and more likely to develop moderate and social drinking habits.
But as a parent or guardian it’s up to you to decide whether and how much your teen can drink at home. Here are a few thought starters that might help you make the best decision for your family:
- Is drinking part of your family culture?
- Do your children have positive drinking role models? Or negative ones?
- Are your children mature and have a high level of self-awareness?
- Have your children proven that they are trustworthy and can follow rules?
- Can you talk freely with your children and do they come to you with their worries?
Whatever you decide, stick to your guns. It is critical that your teen gets a consistent message about your expectations and a clear explanation for the decision you have made.
What the experts have to say…
Graeme Dingle (ONZM, MBE)
Founder, Graeme Dingle Foundation - www.dinglefoundation.org.nz
Teens experiment with drinking because one of the key things about being a teenager is experimentation; essentially they are testing their limits. This is a very healthy thing, almost vital to the survival of the species. It leads to people being champions, athletes, and members of winning teams. It becomes a problem when young people begin to experiment with how much booze they can drink, or how fast they can drive, and so on.
But it should be at the discretion of parents as to whether they let their children drink or not. If they do, it should be in moderation. Brain development is not complete until we reach our twenties so excessive drinking should be discouraged. Drinking also impairs judgement, which can lead to teens putting themselves in dangerous situations.