How Parents Can Manage Teen Drinking

"How Parents Can Manage Teen Drinking"

The devastating consequences of teenage alcohol abuse have been highlighted in the past by the sad story of 27 year-old Kimberly Stewart. The daughter of singer Rod Stewart, himself a once legendary party animal, has described the serious liver damage she’s suffered. Kimberly may be destined to become the latest anti-drinking message "pin-up". With her gorgeous looks it's a very different role than what she might’ve once expected.

Statistics show drink-related illnesses are increasing in adolescents with hospital admissions rising by 20 per cent in five years. With more than 25% of 15 and 16 year-olds owning-up to three-plus drink binges in the past month, we need to face this unfolding drinks-disaster.


In my view many adolescents feel disconnected from family, undervalued by busy parents, are set few boundaries and given little motivation to enjoy life free of alcohol. There are fewer youth groups and after-school activities. As well as having to prove themselves as mini-adults in the face of pressures to grown-up too quickly.


A generally harsh social environment coupled with little guidance and few opportunities to channel adolescent energies mean many turn to the rush alcohol provides. Once the rush is over it sedates sad and lonely feelings. There's huge peer pressure, as there's always been, to be "cool" and unfortunately our society now associates “cool” with excessive drinking. Open any magazine and you're likely to see rich and attractive young stars, and young royalty, tumbling out of night-clubs inebriated.

The optimism of youth means they’ve scant regard for the serious consequences of alcohol abuse. As Kimberly’s found, a young liver is a sensitive organ prone to serious damage. There’s increased risk of medical problems like heart disease, alcohol-related cancers, ulcers, pancreatitis, and brain damage. On the psychological side alcohol abuse may lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. Also adolescents risk making inappropriate choices, having unprotected sex, being sexually or physically assaulted, and are accident-prone when the worse for wear.


There’s much you can do to prevent excessive drinking. As so much alcohol abuse stems from feeling unloved and fewer things to do, start by developing the best possible relationship with your teen. Love can’t conquer all but will help protect them. Even the most dedicated parents will have to deal with adolescent transgressions. No matter what the atmosphere in your home it's never too late to improve it. A poor atmosphere leaves parents feeling they’ve no control outside the home either.


Begin to create a home environment like a "protective bubble" that's nurturing and respectful. When your teen walks out the door they’ll face the world and all its pressures from this protective bubble.


How do you do this? First let go of the small stuff and hang on to the bigger picture. If you have screaming matches over dirty clothes strewn around, or over unwashed dishes, they’ll face the world with anger. So work on the big stuff - them feeling loved and valued. Once you know their self-esteem is increasing you can work on the smaller things.

One way of achieving this is simply to "be" with your teen. If you’re rarely together or rowing when you are, relax and show them a calm side. We always feel we have to be "doing things" in our society leaving little time to enjoy our children. Even enjoying 15 to 20 minutes a day where you simply chat about nothing in particular is a positive start. Once you're on an even keel start doing enjoyable things together, e.g., watching a film.


Adolescents need boundaries, don't be frightened of setting them. Start with the basics and agree who does which of the household chores. Monitor their helpfulness and deduct privileges such as pocket-money if they don't do their share. Equally with things like curfews and where they go, keep a close eye.


Know their friends and check what other parents are allowing rather then the believing your child who says that "David's parents let him do X, Y or Z." A healthy scepticism is never amiss as teenagers try it on no matter how much you try to establish trust.


I recently coached a 49 year-old personal assistant about how to set clear boundaries on her boss’s demands on her time. It transpired her 16 year-old daughter was bingeing on alcohol. Sue  took these new skills into her home life. Happily now (after some traumatic moments) her daughter’s receiving counselling and has stopped drinking.


Learn to listen to them as busy parents often fail to. Give them the time to answer questions or express a point of view. Partly due to our whirlwind lifestyles, a parent will ask something and expect an immediate response. Recent neurophysiological research shows the adolescent brain goes through a huge period of growth, reacting more slowly to many situations. Be patient!


Now begin sounding them out on issues like drinking. Use a story-line from a soap opera or in the press to kick-start it. Use your listening skills effectively and let them have their say. Challenge any drinking myths they believe like thinking that drinking lots in one go (bingeing) on a Saturday night is harmless. It's not!


If you fear they're already drinking excessively take them to your GP to discuss openly. Keep an open dialogue with their teachers too. Most will be happy to help monitor the situation. If you deny the existence of a problem in your child you do far more damage to them then by facing it honestly. No matter how tough it is, it'll be far tougher in the long run if they, e.g., damage their liver.


If they won't adhere to boundaries, are behaving dangerously or out of control, seek a referral for counselling. Don’t give up on them. Embrace any positive moments in such a nightmare to give you both hope.


Finally set a good example. If you use alcohol as a stress reliever, or binge and get drunk yourself, you set a poor example. Monitor your own relationship to alcohol and improve it if necessary.


Find out about Alateen, the support groups for teens that drink, through Al-Anon 020 7403 0888 or Email:

Drinkline Helpline – 0800-917-8282

Parentline Plus - 0808 800 22 22


Published in the Express Newspaper

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