Supporting a non-drinking teen ... and 5 simple tips to ensure your child has healthy attitudes around alcohol

In 2010 I visited Broken Hill and delivered a presentations to a group of Year 10 students. A box was left at the front of the room and young people were encouraged to write down any questions, queries or concerns they had regarding the topics being discussed. One question stood out from all the others - it read as follows:

"I identify myself as a non-drinker. I really don’t like the taste and how it makes me feel but most of my friends drink and sometimes I drink just to fit in. What’s the best way to deal with my situation. I don’t want to be known as a loser …"

I kept the hand-written note for many years, using a copied version of it in many of my parent sessions and it highlights the pressure that young people can feel to drink alcohol when they socialise with their peers. Of course, that 'peer pressure' still exists (although I think it has reduced in recent times, but more about that later), but what happens when the pressure to drink comes from somewhere else?…

"We trusted our teen and we were terribly let down": A Mum warns other parents about 'blind trust'

I've written about this many times before and this is an update of an article I first wrote about three years ago. Sadly, no matter how many times we warn parents about blindly trusting their teen, it just doesn't seem to register until something terrible happens. This week I met a couple who recently almost lost their 15-year-old son and, as they said to me, it just wouldn't have happened if they had been checking up on him a little more and not simply trusted him to do the right thing. Without going into the details the incident involved fast cars, alcohol and the young man not being where he had said he would be … Their son was so lucky but the parents are now feeling terribly guilty about not making phone calls and finding out more about their son's movements by talking to other parents. They also feel foolish that they believed that their son was 'different' and would not let them down by lying to them. As I said to them, parents can only do their best an…

'Vaping' or 'juuling': When a 15-year-old birthday invitation includes the words 'No vaping' you know something is happening!

I last wrote about 'vaping' after receiving a number of messages from parents wanting to know more about the topic. They had all found a strange-looking device in their child's room and had little, or no idea, what it actually was, how it was used and whether it was harmful or not. Since that time I have been contacted by more and more schools who are looking for advice on how to deal with students who are caught vaping (sometimes as young as Year 8 or 9), as well as an increasing number of parents who have discovered their teen is vaping or 'juuling' (I will explain that term in a moment) and are struggling with how to handle the situation.

But it was a phone call I had recently from a mother regarding an invitation her son had received to a 15th birthday party that made me think I should take another look at this issue. Basically, this is what she told me:

"Yesterday, my Year 10 son came home with an invitation to one of his classmate's birthday party. H…

Why would a 16-year-old girl drink a bottle of vodka every Saturday night? It's not about a 'good time', it's about getting 'wasted'

A number of years ago after a Year 12 presentation at a girls' school I was approached by a young woman (let's call her Faith) who wanted to talk to me about concerns she had about her alcohol use. I made it clear to her about my 'duty of care' and that if what she told me led me to believe she was 'at risk', I would have to report it to the school. It was obvious that something in the talk had struck a nerve and she needed to speak to someone and damn the consequences. Faith was 16 and for the past two years she had been drinking at least one bottle of vodka every Saturday evening, either at a party with friends or, on rare occasions, by herself. She had no desire to drink alcohol at any other time, just that one night each week, but when she did drink her intention was to get 'smashed'. From what I could gather, she had chosen this time to discuss her concerns because she was starting to find that it took far more alcohol to get her to the point she …

Parents and the 'weakest link': 4 tips to help prevent you being 'set-up' around alcohol and parties

It would be extremely rare to find a household across the country where one of the parents did not self-identify as the 'weakest link', i.e., the one that their child (or children) is more likely to go to in an attempt to get what they want. You can almost guarantee that when I raise this issue at a Parent Information Evening, there are usually one of two responses from the couples in the room. Either one of them turns and stares accusingly, whilst the other tries as hard as they can to keep looking forward hoping it will all end quickly, or you simply see a room full of grown men and women swinging around to each other pointing fingers furiously.

I've raised this issue before but during the week I was talking to a young woman who was having her 17th birthday in a couple of weeks and she wanted my advice on how she could best keep her and her friends as safe as possible. The whole event sounded terrifying (i.e., 300 guests, alcohol provided (but no spirits supposedly but …

Teens and breaking rules: 3 simple things parents need to remember when deciding on a consequence

The teen years can be difficult for all concerned and it is so important that parents have an understanding of why young people do the things they do during adolescence. You can sit with your teen, carefully explain your rules and boundaries and outline clearly the consequences should those rules be broken and they may still walk away and, within minutes, do the 'wrong thing'. It is at this point that you may start to question your parenting and also the intelligence of your teen ...

Put simply, teens make the choices they do because of their developing brain. The adolescent brain is far less developed than we once thought, with male brains developing much later than females (no surprise there!). When we make decisions as an adult, we rely on parts of the brain that are amongst the last to fully develop, i.e., the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and promotor cortex. These sections deal with reasoned thinking and judgment, as well as learning and memory (remembering past experi…

Parents, teens and trust: Can you trust a teen? Most probably not. Do you have to trust a teen? Absolutely!

Since presenting testimony at the Coronial Inquest into Music Festival Deaths I have been asked to do many media interviews, most of which I have knocked back. As I have got older I have become increasingly frustrated with the whole 'media process' of taking a 30-minute interview and editing it down to a couple of quick grabs that rarely capture the subtlety of the message you are trying to relay. That said, I wanted to highlight my concern that we are seeing growing numbers of younger Australians experimenting with ecstasy/MDMA and that many of them now regard it as a 'harmless' drug and, for the most part, hopefully that's what was covered.

Deborah Cornwall, a journalist I have worked with for many years, has written a comprehensive piece for today's Weekend Australian outlining details around three of the six deaths being investigated. It's a 'must-read' for any parent who has a child that attends festivals (or nightclubs and other nightlife eve…