Should parents provide alcohol to their teens?

October 31, 2018

Should parents provide alcohol to their teens?

Exploring Teens written debate - Series #1, debate #7

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Before we begin, I ask for consideration of the following:

  • Please appreciate that these writers are not professional writers. They are part of the Exploring Teens audience and have volunteered to write one side of this debate.
  • These debates show that every area of parenting has people who will passionately see it from completely opposite perspectives. Everyone’s experience is shaped by the lens of their own experience. It’s unlikely there is ever a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ position.
  • Reading through the debates, I am in awe as to how much thought people put into parenting. We often beat ourselves up, but I can't see any inadequacies here. All I see is committed and passionate people wanting to do their very best for the teens in their care.


The case FOR providing alcohol to your teens

If you asked my daughters, aged 17, 15 & 13 years old, they’d tell you I am one of the strictest parents amongst their friend group.  My attitude towards them consuming alcohol probably surprises people in comparison to other parenting decisions I make.  However, I want to make it crystal clear that allowing them to drink is not something we’ve taken lightly.  I am far from being one of those parents that makes decisions like this because it is what everyone else is doing, or because I want to be ‘BFF’s’ with my children. 

My journey to this decision actually started back as a young teen.  I grew up in a family home where we regularly hosted exchange students.  Through this experience, I gained a lot of cultural insights from discussions we had around the dinner table.  A lot of European students had a culture and permission from their families to drink wine with family meals.  My parents, although quite conservative, allowed our exchange students to have a wine with their dinner.  However, as their first child, my parents’ tolerance of this, did not extend to me! 

As the years passed, I found these philosophies stuck with me and formed the basis of very early discussions my husband and I had.  Having said that though, we didn’t embark on this path flippantly.  There is a lot of evidence regarding the negative consequence of alcohol for teenagers.  It is recommended that ‘not drinking alcohol is the safest option for children and young people under 18 years of age’.  However, as soon as you turn 18 you can purchase copious amounts of alcohol, and furthermore consume it unsupervised?  I just don’t understand this mentality! 

Let’s compare it with learning to drive for a second.  In NSW, adolescents are required to do a minimum 120 hours supervised driving on the L plates and encouraged to participate in private lessons and safe driver training programs where they can reduce these hours.  They must sit a practical exam to obtain their P’s to be cleared as safe to drive unsupervised.  Let me tell you, those first few drives I completed with my eldest daughter were nerve wracking!  Much more so than the first few times she experienced alcohol under the loving supervision in the safety of our home.  The thought of her first experiences with alcohol being at a rowdy party or club completely terrified me.

Here are some of the ground rules we established.  From age 15, and for the first twelve months, our daughter was only able to consume alcohol with a meal at home with our immediate family only.  We didn’t want her drinking to be an opportunity to show off around friends and extended family.  She was only allowed to consume premixed drinks between 0.9 -1.1 standard drinks.  She was only allowed one drink per day, which she would often further dilute with lemonade or soda water. 

From age 16, we began allowing her to take a couple of drinks to small social gatherings with closed family and friends where we could keep a close eye on her.  If there were teens her age there that were not drinking, she too would not drink.  This we were really firm about, again because we didn’t want it to be an opportunity to show off.

From age 17, she was allowed to take a four pack of drinks to parties, and under no circumstances is she to accept or share her drinks with friends. 

It has shocked me the number of parents who send their kids to parties with double strength premixed drinks, or worse whole bottles of spirits to mix their own drinks – that in my opinion is asking for trouble!  Often these kids are having less than desirable experiences.  Some of my daughters’ peers have even ended up in hospital totally inebriated.  This in itself has been a good lesson that she never wants to be ‘that girl’.  As we have taken the hype out of drinking she’ll often come home with half the drinks she has taken to a party! 

One of the biggest positives from our experience is that in the safety of our home she has experienced many different alcoholic beverages, and that we’ve been able to observe her behaviour and give her feedback and talk to her about how different drinks make her feel.  We must explore teen drinking as a means to curb our binge drinking epidemic.  It is scary business being a parent of teens, but I am confident with the path we are navigating with our daughters.  I hope this has been food for thought for others!


Author bio: Mother to 3 teenage daughters and a Holistic Wellness & Transformational Coach and Emotions Mentor. She consults privately and runs workshops to support and educate women to lead happy, balanced and low-tox lives. She has a background in the fitness industry and is currently completing her yoga teacher training.



The case AGAINST providing alcohol to your teens


ABSOLUTELY parenting is the hardest job in the world. And don’t you find that everyone has an opinion on how to raise a child?  There’s a lot of pressure being a modern parent in a modern world.

Times have changed and we are in an era now where research fortunately enables us to make informed decisions about how we chose to parent.

You are mistaken to think that buying alcohol for your teen and providing a “safe” environment for them to drink in is the right thing to do to prevent an issue with alcohol down the track.

You have protected your child from the moment they’re born.  If you do buy alcohol for your teen, you run the risk of them thinking alcohol isn’t dangerous because otherwise mum/dad wouldn’t let me have it...YIKES.

Alcohol is a drug and alcohol consumption has been found to be the leading risk factor for death and disability globally for 15-24 year olds.

According to the Raising Children’s Network (a leading Parenting Network in Australia that provides scientifically validated information),

“…Alcohol is the drug that causes most harm across all ages in Australia…and the best way to minimise harm is not to use it at all. No-one under the age of 18 should drink alcohol.”

As parents it is paramount that we do not buy alcohol for our teens.

We have all heard parents who validate their reasons for buying their teens alcohol with statements like “at least I know what and how much they are drinking” haven’t we?

Well interestingly the current research is not supporting this view of thinking.

Findings from a 6 year study of 1,927 teenagers found those teens whose parents gave them alcohol were:

“...95% more likely to binge drink in the future than those who found another way to score a drink…” Lancet Public Health Journal 26/1/2018.

There have been numerous other studies suggesting suppling alcohol to adolescents does NOT protect against future alcohol related harm, in fact may increase the risk.

Research examining the effects of alcohol on the adolescent brain is still evolving.  Drinking is more harmful to teens than adults.  This is because the teenage brain is going through rapid synaptic pruning coupled with a maturing pre-frontal cortex, also known as the CEO of the brain.  This area is vital for controlling impulsivity, assessing risks and decision making.  As an informed parent why would you want to provide alcohol to this mix leaving your teen less capable of making sensible decisions?

Professor Ian Hickie, Executive Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute states:

“... exposure to alcohol during those teenage years has the potential to interfere with normal development. If you want to end up with a fully developed brain you need to make sure those frontal lobes really develop properly and that alcohol use is really avoided during that period.”

Yes we need to teach our children to eat healthy, obey road rules, follow the law but we don’t need to teach them how to drink alcohol safely by providing it. We need to be the bigger, stronger and wiser people here and role model accordingly and follow the law.  No alcohol under 18 which means mum and dad take heed.

As a parent we have so many hopes and dreams for our children.  We want them to be happy, healthy, contribute positively to society and follow their dreams.  Current research trends show overwhelmingly parental provision of alcohol to teens is associated with risk and not a protective factor and as such my message to all parents is:



Author bio: Mum of teenagers in step family scenario. With a supportive partner, together we navigate the windy road of parenthood doing the best we can and hoping we all come out soaring.



So now it's over to you guys!

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