OPINION: Pressured to give teens booze

AS this week draws to a close, so will the long breath held by many apprehensive parents whose children return home from schoolies.  

But the end of the school year doesn’t just  signal party time for year 12 students. Younger teenagers finishing the school year are also likely to be experimenting with alcohol. 

With formals and parties accompanying the start of the summer holidays, many parents will face a dilemma about allowing their children to drink, or supplying them with alcohol.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle  recently published research reporting that 41per cent of students surveyed in local Catholic and independent schools were given alcohol by their parents. Most of this alcohol was for consumption under supervision. 

In these contexts, many parents feel that providing a small amount of alcohol will help teach their children to drink responsibly and hope that it may reduce their inclination to rebel and engage in risky drinking outside the home.

A significant proportion of parents are reported to give their children alcohol to drink outside the home and in contexts in which there is no, or questionable, adult supervision. 

While this may seem alarming, parents who know the challenges of dealing with teenage nagging and the inevitable transition into independence might sympathise.

The peer pressure teenagers face to engage risky behaviours including drinking, particularly at this time of year, is well known. 

However, research led by Dr Conor Gilligan and Associate Professor Kypros Kypri suggests parents might also be under the weight of peer pressure when it comes to under-age drinking. 

Some parents explained their supply of alcohol stemmed from concern of social exclusion resulting from their child not being able to drink with their peers.

 An associated study conducted this year by a partner research group in Canada found a significant relationship between parents’ supply of alcohol and their perception that other parents did the same. 

Parents who believed other parents supplied their children with alcohol in unsupervised settings were more likely to supply their own children with alcohol.

A major difference between the pressure faced by teenagers and their parents, is that parents are largely informed about the practices of other parents by their teenage child who is trying to persuade them to let them drink or attend a party. Therefore, this misperception that “all the other parents buy for their kids” might not only be incorrect but also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To further this research and address the issue of parents’ understanding of what is ‘‘normal’’ and ‘‘acceptable’’ regarding allowing teenagers to drink and providing alcohol, we at the University of Newcastle are conducting research involving the parents of teenagers aged 13 to 17 who are attending schools in the Hunter Region. 

The study involves an online survey hoping to extend our understanding of parental supply, the perception parents have of other parents’ supply behaviour, and the relationship between these factors.

We have also established a Facebook group, the Hunter Parents Alcohol Forum. 

This group provides a means of connecting parents to share their experiences, beliefs and ideas regarding under-age drinking,   helping them to be more informed on the issue. The forum is also a way of sharing existing information and resources with parents. 

The discussion group provides parents with an opportunity to share views and ideas, in a private, accessible and respectful environment. Parents of children aged 13 to 17 attending schools in the Hunter can become involved in this research and have their input heard by completing the survey and/or joining the private Facebook group (so your kids can’t see what is being discussed). 

Those not part of this demographic can still show support by liking our Facebook page. 

We are also available on Twitter @HunterPAF.

http://www.facebook.com/groups/HunterParentsAlcoholForum 

http://hmrisurveys.hnehealth.

nsw.gov.au/Survey//TakeSurvey.aspx?SurveyID=94KH8p4

Conor Gilligan is a lecturer in the school of medicine and public health, University of Newcastle

Jesse Bourke is a project assistant in the school of medicine and public health, University of Newcastle

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