As your child grows up, it’s easy to think that they listen more to their friends and celebrities than you. However, the reality is that you started to influence your child from day one and you remain one of your child’s biggest influencers as they develop into an adult.¹
You don’t need to tell your child about your past experiences with alcohol and drugs. It’s important to be their parent, not their friend. However, if you drink responsibly as a parent your child is more likely to do the same later in life.
Modelling responsible drinking means:
- limiting your drinking and not getting drunk, especially in front of your children
- showing you don’t always need a drink to have fun, wind down or do things like watch sport
- dealing with stress in healthy ways, for example through rest, exercise, and listening to music
- keeping track of how many standard drinks you’ve had, even when you aren’t driving
- demonstrating that you can refuse a drink from a friend if you don’t feel like it or you’ve had enough
- never drinking and driving.¹
Delaying your child’s initiation into drinking is a good idea because:
- a child who starts drinking early is more likely to develop alcohol problems
- alcohol is harmful to young people– a young person’s body and brain is still developing and is not equipped to handle alcohol.
- medical experts advise delaying drinking alcohol until 18 years
- giving your child alcohol sends a conflicting message – when it’s okay for them to have a drink with you at home, they are more likely to drink when they are out with their friends.
Using the media
Children learn about alcohol through advertising on television and on billboards. You can use these as prompts to find out how they view alcohol, and help them to analyse the tricks advertisers use. When you see a billboard advertising alcohol when you’re in the car together you could ask, ‘what is it about alcohol that the advertisements never show?’
You might also ask what they learn about alcohol at school, whether they know of children drinking, or what their friends think about alcohol. Asking these questions is a good way of checking in to see whether you need to give them any further information about alcohol and drugs, and the media (see below). They are also learning through these conversations that it’s safe to talk with you about alcohol and drugs.
Alcohol brands are innovators in the use of social media and they’re using it to target young people. Social media allows brands to target young people in a host of ways that go unnoticed by regulators and many adults, including parents.
Social media platforms like Facebook allow alcohol companies to collect data to help them target audiences. This means that you may see an ad on Facebook for a certain alcohol brand through its sponsorship of a racing carnival because you went to the races, while your child may see a different ad for the same brand through its sponsorship of a music festival they attended.
One example of how alcohol brands leverage their sponsorship of a music festival is sending a photographer to take pictures of people at the event. The photos are then posted on the alcohol brand’s Facebook page and the people in the photos will tag themselves and share them with their friends. This allows the alcohol company to collect more data on the young person and continue to target them with things like competitions and discussions around appealing cultural topics. This two-way dialogue is much more intimate and effective than traditional advertising through TV, radio and billboards.
As alcohol marketing becomes more targeted it’s hard for anyone to know, or measure, how much alcohol promotion young people are receiving. Young people under 18 years use social media a lot – they can set up a Facebook account at 13. This makes it increasingly important for parents to talk with their children about the sort of brands they are engaging with through social media and giving them some guidance on how to think about these messages.
The alcohol industry is estimated to spend about $1 billion dollars a year in Australia on promotions such as television ads, billboards and posters, online ads and sport sponsorship.2
The alcohol industry knows that today’s children are tomorrow’s drinkers, and their advertising relentlessly targets children. The promotion associates alcohol with celebrating, commiserating, fun, and relaxation. It depicts drinking as a necessary part of any social occasion.
In Australia, although alcohol advertising on television is supposed to be banned when children might be watching, strangely it’s allowed during the broadcast of sporting events. Alcohol companies are also allowed to advertise outside on billboards, at public transit stops, and on buses and trams. They might sponsor your child’s favourite sport or sports team.
Research shows that the more alcohol advertising a child is exposed to, the higher the likelihood they will start drinking earlier and will drink at riskier levels.3,4
Alcohol companies take every opportunity to market their product, including branding things like clothing.
Research shows that children who wear clothes or own merchandise that carries alcohol branding are attracted to alcohol, have higher expectations of drinking, are more likely to start drinking early, and drink more often during adolescence.5
Many films and TV shows, as well as popular music, make reference to alcohol or feature characters drinking. International research found that 57% of G and PG-rated high-grossing movies showed alcohol use.6
Alcohol brands know the power of advertising – that’s why they go to such effort to have their product or logo shown even momentarily on screen. The portrayal of people drinking on screen by popular actors also works to normalise drinking for the audience.
How the news covers traditionally boozy events like race days, Australia day, and schoolies helps normalise risky drinking during those events and reinforces Australia’s drinking culture. When the news portrays that “everyone” is drinking a lot, young people can think they are missing out if they are not drinking. The reality is that the majority of teenagers don’t drink or do drugs.
Parents can worry about the influence their children’s friends might have, but a sound relationship with your own child can outweigh any negative influences from their peers.¹
You can also:
- encourage your child’s friendships with people who have a positive attitude to life and whose interests fit well with your child’s interests
- get to know your child’s friends by having them at your house when you are home
- talk to your child about the value of true friendships and the qualities of a true friend
- ask your child what they would do if other kids were drinking or taking drugs and they were being encouraged to take part
- brainstorm how they could avoid getting involved in this risk-taking behaviour - make sure your child has one or two reasons they could use for not getting involved that they feel comfortable with saying to their peers.¹
Every parent knows how hard it is to have rules that are different to the rules that other parents have. It’s a good idea to develop a relationship with other parents in your community, for example through your school, and try to develop a consistent approach where possible.
What else you can do
While some teenagers may experiment with alcohol and drugs out of interest, how happy they are in their family, at school and in their friendship groups influence whether they develop problems with these substances.
Although there is no guarantee that a specific individual will not use alcohol or other drugs, research has shown that the more protective factors your child has in their life the less likely it is for them. Protective factors include:
- try and have a good relationship and open communication between you and your child
- support their having a sense of belonging somewhere e.g. in the family, school, a sporting club
- reinforce their positive achievements and experiences at school
- encourage a supportive relationship with a role model outside of the family
- look for opportunities for them to contribute to their community
- try to help them feel respected and cared for
- maybe help them find religious or spiritual links.7
The more negative influences your child has in their life, then the more likely they are to develop problems with alcohol and drugs.
- Chronic family arguments, members insulting and/or yelling at each other.
- Not enough clear and rules and consequences.
- Severe or inconsistent punishment.
- Living in poverty.
- Family history of drug misuse, parents misusing alcohol or drugs.
- Lack of attachment or commitment to school.
- Reduced academic achievement.
- Community attitudes toward drug use and availability of drugs.
- Poor, deteriorating, or crime-ridden neighbourhoods.
Personality and peers
- Early and persistent problem behaviours, like being disruptive in school or fighting with other children.
- Not feeling like they’re a part of their community or society
- Lack of positive friendships.
- Peer acceptance and/or use of alcohol and other drugs.
- Parenting Strategies Program (2010). Parenting Guidelines for Adolescent Alcohol Use. Melbourne: Orygen Youth Health Research Centre, University of Melbourne.
- McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth. (2014). ‘Alcohol Advertising and Young People’,
- P. Anderson, K. Kochanek and R. Murphy. (2009). ‘Impact of alcohol advertising and other media exposure on adolescent alcohol use: a systematic review of longitudinal studies’, Alcohol and Alcoholism, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 229-243.
- A. M. Roche, P. T. Bywood, J. Borlagdan, B. Lunnay, T. Freeman, L. Lawton, A. Tovell and R. Nicholas. (2007). ‘Young people and alcohol: the role of cultural influences’, National Centre for Education and Training on Addication, Adelaide.
- Hurtz, S.Q., Henriksen L, Wang Y, Feighery EC, Fortmann SP. (2007). The relationship between exposure to alcohol advertising in stores, owning alcohol promotional items, and adolescent alcohol use. Alcohol and Alcoholism 42:2 143 – 149.
- S. Dal Cin, K. Worth, M. Dalton and J. Sargent. (2008). ‘Youth exposure to alcohol use and brand appearances in popular contemporary movies’, Addiction, vol. 103, no. 12, pp. 1925-1932.
- Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy. (2004). ‘The prevention of substance use, risk and harm in Australia’.