Teens, parties and alcohol

The question about whether it’s okay for parents to supply  alcohol to 15 year olds blew up on my Facebook page last week. (One parent wrote in the comments that her 15yo daughter went to a 15th party where the parents had hired a bar.  SMASH! Did you hear that? That was the sound of my head falling off.)

Anyway, here’s the email that started the debate …

“Am I out of touch?” – parents supplying alcohol to teens

Hi Bec,

I’m sitting with the following discomfort which has prompted me to reach out to you …

When did we, as parents, enable & facilitate access to alcohol for our underage children? My 15yr old daughter (who is 3 months shy of 16) was invited to a 16th birthday party on the weekend, hosted at home by the teen’s parents (incidentally, one of her parents is a high school teacher). My daughter asked my husband and I to supply her with “two vodka cruisers to drink” at the party because the host’s parents “said it’s OK and everyone else is allowed to”. My husband and I agreed that our position was a hard “no” and we explained this and our rationale to our daughter.

Our teen attempted to negotiate over several weeks by asking, would we support her filling a couple of cruiser bottles with soft drink to give the illusion that she was drinking alcohol. I explored this with her and she agreed that she isn’t necessarily enticed to drink alcohol, but she wants to fit in with the perceived image of ‘normal’ teen behaviour. I should add that my husband and I both drink alcohol and offer our daughters the opportunity to have a sip of our drink at appropriate social occasions, but they consistently decline!

Naively, I had expected that our position would be embraced by the majority of parents, but I was shocked and alarmed to learn that we are indeed in the minority. All except two of the party attendees had signed consent and alcohol provided by their parents. Most of these kids are 15.

As a health professional and parent I cannot think of a single argument as to why encouraging and enabling access to alcohol for our 15/16 and early 17 year old is responsible. I appreciate that experimenting with alcohol has long been a past time of teens and quite normal – it’s the behaviour shift in parents that has me more concerned.

Am I too conservative and completely out of touch? Feeling like the only ‘wowzer in the village’ is exhausting!


So here’s my response to Sam …

As I’m writing this, the post attracted 444 comments on my Facebook page with wildly different opinions. Some people felt it was better to ‘introduce’ their kids to alcohol and supply them with drinks so they knew what they were drinking. Others felt it was unthinkable to supply teens under 18 with alcohol and that as parents (certainly as the party hosts) you have a duty of care to the kids in your home.

Here’s what I think.

My go-to person on this issue is Paul Dillon from DARTA (Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia). Paul is considered to be the leading expert in Australia on teens and drug use including alcohol, vaping and drugs. Paul has spent thirty years speaking to thousands of teenagers and parents in schools on this topic. 

Paul has TWO podcasts.

The Real Deal on Drugs which is for TEENS 
Doing Drugs with Paul Dillon which is for PARENTS 

In Doing Drugs with Paul Dillon,  Paul answers the question:  How Do I Introduce Alcohol to my child? I have summarised the key points he makes in this episode. But I encourage you to listen to it yourself here

  • Something to remember: alcohol contributes to the deaths of young people more than anything else.
  • One 14-17 year old dies every weekend due to alcohol.
  • Alcohol related car crashes are a major cause of death among young people. Alcohol is also linked to teen deaths by drowning, suicide and homicide.
  • Teens who drink are more likely to be sexually active at early ages, to have sex more often and more likely to have unprotected sex compared to teens who do not drink.
  • Teens report they are more likely to use illicit drugs after drinking alcohol
  • Someone who starts drinking as a young teen is FOUR times more likely to develop alcohol dependence.
  • Growing numbers of young people are choosing to be non-drinkers.
  • Parents who are aware of the activities their teens take part in, who take an active interest in what their child does, who talk and listen to their children and who model positive behaviour towards alcohol – these parents are likely to have a far more positive effect on their child’s future drinking. Their teens have been shown to start drinking at a later age, tend to drink less and are less likely to develop problematic drinking patterns in the future.
  • Parents who lay out positive family values and rules, reward good behaviour and use negotiation skills actually talking through these issues with their teens appear to delay the age their child starts to drink.
  • Strict discipline and lots of conflict in the home is linked to higher rates of teen alcohol use.
  • Children of parents who are more accepting of their teens drinking in adolescence actually tend to drink more.
  • Children are influenced by their parents’ drinking behaviour.
  • Some studies suggest parents can have a positive influence on their child’s drinking behaviour by allowing them small amounts of alcohol and trusting their child’s ability to act responsibly and drink in moderation. THIS RESEARCH ALSO MAKES IT CLEAR that if parents choose this road, it’s VITAL that parents set boundaries around drinking at the same time. If they don’t their child is likely to drink more.
  • Other studies show that introducing your child to alcohol at an early age – even in a family context – can lead to future binge drinking.
  • Researchers now agree that teens under the age of 16 should not drink any alcohol EVER due to the impact on adolescent brain development.
  • It’s important to delay the initiation of drinking alcohol for as long as you can. The earlier a child starts drinking alcohol, the more likely they will develop problems with it in the future.
  • You don’t want your child’s first drink to take place in a park late on a Saturday night BUT providing it too early without clear rules and boundaries laid out at the same time is likely to be just as problematic but in different ways.
  • Many parents point to the Mediterranean model (countries like France, Italy and Greece) where children are introduced to alcohol at a very young age with a meal and there’s been evidence that in those parts of the world this has lead to more responsible alcohol use later in life. It’s impossible to lift this approach up and transplant it in Australia when there are so many other cultural factors at play in Australia which leads to this model (the Mediterranean model) not being effective in Australia.
  • PARENTS SERVING ALCOHOL AT TEEN PARTIES:The message this sends our kids is that to celebrate – you must have alcohol.
  • When parents give teens drinks to take with them to parties, it’s likely the only message the teen ‘gets’ is “Mum and dad give me alcohol”.
  • Recent Australian research has shown there is no protective effect of providing alcohol to your kids for parties. “Any supply of alcohol to adolescents especially those aged 16 or younger should be avoided. There is no benefit and instead it is likely to increase how often adolescents drink.”
  • When you give them two drinks to take to a party, they’re likely to drink two more.
  • Regular drinking for teens (regardless of the amount they drink) is also a predictor of future drinking problems. 

If you have a teen, I urge you to listen The Real Deal On Drugs with Paul Dillon — this is a podcast for TEENS to listen to and includes episodes like …

  • Putting a drunk person to bed to ‘sleep it off’
  • How do you look after a drunk vomiting friend?
  • Is vaping safe?
  • Cannabis: answering your top 3 questions
  • When do you call an ambulance for a young person?
  • Planning a night out – how to stay as safe as possible

This has been a long email but I hope you have found it useful.

Paul’s biggest message when it comes to teens and drinking: DELAY DELAY DELAY. Clinical psychologist Dr Lisa Damour also says that we want to stress to our kids that our biggest concern is their SAFETY when they go to parties.  You can listen to Dr Lisa talk about teens and alcohol here.

Bec x


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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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