?Parties and Alcohol – Do parents have any influence on teens?

Parties and Alcohol


Festivities can be so much fun, and parties provide opportunities for socialising and a little freedom for older teens. It is wonderful to be young! Encouragingly, it has been reported that teens today are making better choices with alcohol than previous generations. Yet I am often asked, “How much influence do parents have on teens, parties and alcohol consumption?”


A number of studies, in Australia, the US and the UK show more teens choosing not to drink, regardless of gender or socio- economic background.  There are still some concerns in the UK where although teens appear to be drinking less than in the past. They are still getting drunk more often and consuming larger quantities of alcohol than many (but no all) of their European peers (see here and here.)

The effects of alcohol and binge drinking

Overall, although fewer teens are choosing to drink, among those who do, they are binge drinking at dangerous levels. With parties come late nights. The resulting tiredness can also alter the ability to make healthy decisions, particularly when alcohol is added to the mix. Given the detrimental effects of alcohol on the developing brain and the numbing fog that comes with consuming alcohol, we need to continue to warn young people about its dangers. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which can make it more likely for teenagers to make risky decisions. Half of sexual victimisation incidents involve alcohol. We still see far too many acts of abuse and harassment occur during alcohol- soaked gatherings. One of my go-to experts on teen drug and alcohol education is Paul Dillon, the founder of DARTA (Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia). Paul wrote this excerpt for my book on teens, parties and alcohol,

“Certainly I believe that this is a generation that really wants to look after others, most particularly their friends.
Girls are more likely to ask for information on how to look after their friends, particularly when they are drunk. But in my experience boys are just as likely to assist in an emergency and are more likely to do it by themselves. Girls tend to operate in ‘packs’ and as a result, no one necessarily takes the lead and that’s where things can go wrong.
Unfortunately, young men’s attitudes toward alcohol are a reflection of what we see in the general community. Even though they truely care about themselves and their friends, when alcohol is added to the equation, their value system can change and their attitudes, particularly toward young women who like to drink, can be frightening.”

Given these detrimental effects, we need to continue to support teens in this area.

Teens, Parties and Alcohol


What difference do parents make on alcohol consumption?

A factor we now understand is that parents are one of the main suppliers of alcohol to young teen drinkers. It comes from the mistaken belief that providing their younger teenager with alcohol will help their child to drink ‘more responsibly’. It is wrongly assumed that because they ‘under supervision’ teens will then make better drinking choices when going out. This actually has the opposite effect. These teens tend to drink higher quantities of alcohol when out. I am also constantly surprised by the amount of times I hear about parents hosting a party and offering to purchase alcohol, on behalf of their teen’s peers. FARE – the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education’s research found that, Australians continue to break the law and supply alcohol to underage drinkers. In the belief that there is little risk of detection or punishment.

“In Australia, almost 60 per cent of alcohol consumed by 12 to 17 year olds is supplied by adult friends, relatives or strangers, despite the fact that the provision of alcohol to young people under the age of 18 by someone other than their parent or guardian is in fact illegal in most Australian jurisdictions.”


The great news?

One of the game changers for the afore mentioned changes in teens alcohol consumption appears to be the reduction in parent supply. (See reports here and here). Many parents have also become aware of the risks of alcohol on the developing brain.


In Conversation

  • Modelling The place to start is by modelling healthy choices with alcohol ourselves. Openly talk about our family values and thoughts on underage drinking.
  • High school parties If your child is in high school (particularly around Year/Grade 9 in high school – 14 years old), it is a good time to start with discussions about alcohol at parties. Ask what they think they might do if offered a drink.
  • ‘Safe outs’ Telling teens to ‘Just say no’ is very difficult for many to do in reality. Help them come up with scripts they could say, and come up with safe ‘outs’ for when they are in situations where drinking is involved. For example, they could make an excuse about having sport or work the next day and needing a clear head. Feign illness, hold the same drink all night, or volunteer to be the designated driver.
  • Code words It can be helpful for teenagers to have a “code” they can use with their parents. To be used use in a text or call, if they feel like things are getting out of hand. A word or emoji code that means, “Come and get me now, I need to be picked up”. This is something we’ve been talking to my own teens about for a long time. It gives teens a way to save face, so that if they feel like they need to leave they can do so.
  • Peer pressure Is and always has been a major factor in teens’ choices around alcohol. Positive peer pressure works too. So when teens hear about the negative effects of alcohol on their health and relationships, and that their generation is making better choices than ever with alcohol, they can (and do) make more informed decisions.
  • Share your own story I tell teens about the time I was offered alcohol at a party when I was 14. The alcohol was bought and supplied by the parent, who often wanted to be seen as ‘the cool mum’. The power imbalance was enormous in having an adult encourage the young girls to drink. I spent the party walking around with the same can in my hand, pretending I had just picked up a new one. During the course of the night I slowly disposed of the contents into the indoor pot plants. Ideas and stories help teens think of creative ways to stick with their values, but also not feel embarrassed. They help teens realise they are not alone in choosing not to drink.
  • Remain firm but kind Stick with your boundary and remind yourself that this isn’t just an arbitrary rule. This is a safety and development boundary, which you are carrying out because you love your teen –  not because you are trying to spoil their fun. Yet, remain kind and courteous in your reminder of this alcohol and parties rule. If your teen attempts to negotiate, state the facts, briefly remind them why the boundary is in place and then politely remove yourself from the situation if it is becoming heated.


Parties in your home: The Role Of Parents

Parties are an area where parents often feel that they have to back off and let teenagers have freedom. This is not the case! If you are hosting a party in your home, it’s important to stay visible and present. It is neither acceptable to play the role of BFF and turn a blind eye, nor for your teen to say to you “stay out of sight”.  Besides the fact that it’s your home, having a group of under aged young people under your roof becomes a duty of care issue. There are usually many other parents expecting a responsible adult to be in charge and supervising. Sitting up in your room is not supervising. Too many young people are put at risk of peer pressure and sexual pressure when there is not supervision in place. Of course, ‘stalking’ is not helpful, but there are lots of creative and non-invasive ways that parents can maintain a presence amongst the teens. Perhaps, cook the barbecue, be in and out clearing cups and plates, fill up chip bowls, do the dishes in the kitchen, change a light bulb 😉 .


Dropping Off At A Party

If you are dropping off your young teenager at party or ‘gathering’, don’t be afraid to go and meet the hosts. This is especially true if you don’t know them.  If your teen is embarrassed, perhaps let them go in first and then come along quietly behind. (Not in secret – so still being upfront with your teen, but letting them know you will wait until they have gone in). Forming a relationship with other parents goes a long way towards making sure that we extend our village and look out for each other’s teens.

Last thoughts

It is important that both parents, whether together or not, are on the same page in this area. This may take some compromising and discussion, but you need to remember your child’s safety is paramount!


Please support or encourage a parent, by sharing this article with them.




Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. Find out more at www.raisingteenagers.com.au


‘Wellbeing with Collett’: Teenage Drinking.

Media Reported Trauma – 10 Tips for supporting young people

by Collett Smart [This article is regularly updated]

Weekly news reports of traumatic images and stories of pain and destruction such as; natural disasters (bushfires, floods, volcanoes and earthquakes), the coronavirus, terrorist attacks, threats of war and shootings can cause great concern in children. Adults can sometimes assume that teens are coping with the overload of media reported trauma – while quietly – they are imploding.

This occurs, not only for those directly affected, but teens with a perceived threat of danger. In fact, for many teens, their imaginations (fuelled by sometimes unreliable social media reported trauma and constant stream of graphic images) can magnify the events to even greater levels of terror. Many parents, teachers, grandparents and carers become concerned about the emotional well-being of their children, and begin looking for advice on how to respond to questions from teens about recent upsetting events. 

What are the signs that a young person might be struggling?

Look for a combination of some of the following:

  • sleeping problems, including nightmares, struggling to fall asleep, waking up during the night (you may need to specifically ask about this).
  • physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches or feeling ‘unwell’ in general.
  • not wanting to go to school or attend usual activities (sports, family/social events, use of public transport etc.) This could come from a fear of leaving a family member should something happens while at school. Or fear of something happening on public transport, or in a specific setting.
  • regressive behaviour.
  • changes in behaviour with teachers, carers, siblings and parents – becoming more withdrawn, tearful, aggressive or irritable than usual.
  • drop in performance at school.


In Conversation

The following ten tips are based upon Save the Children‘s years of experience (as well as other resources), and can be used as a guide for adults supporting young people who are not directly involved in the crisis (assistance for teens directly exposed to trauma is best sought from a professional). The relevancy of different tips will vary depending upon a child’s temperament, previous experience, age and where he or she lives.

Young people often ask the adults in their lives to explain what they have seen and to reassure them about what will happen next. The role of parents is still to ensure that their teen knows they are safe with you.

TEN tips on how to help teens process media reported trauma:

1.     Turn off the news!
Watching television reports or scrolling through images on social media may overwhelm tweens and teens. Overexposure to coverage of the events affects adults as well. Encourage screen limits, for a time, for both you and your teens. Process the information as you need to, but do your best to starve your news feed of the detailed stories, and begin again to focus on hope. This is not to ignore the facts, but our brains struggle to be in a constant state of ‘alarm’.

2.     Listen to your tweens carefully, before responding.
Get a clear picture of what it is that they understand and what is leading to their questions. Emotional stress results, in part, when a young person cannot give meaning to dangerous experiences. Find out what he or she understands about what has happened. Their knowledge will be determined by their age and their previous exposure to such events. Begin a dialog to help them gain a basic understanding that is appropriate for their age and respond to their underlying concerns (Hint – very often an underlying concern can be for personal safety or the safety of loved ones. Teens are also currently quite fearful about the future and the state of their earth).

3.     Give reassurance and psychological first-aid.
Assure them about all that is being done to protect children, animals and those directly affected by the crisis. Take this opportunity to let them know that if any emergency or crisis should occur, your primary concern will be their safety. Make sure they know they are being protected. Have 2 or 3 main steps you can verbalise, to indicate this.

4.     Expect the unexpected.
Not every tween or teen will experience these events in the same way. As young people develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional capacities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events, while tweens and teens will get information from a variety of sources – which may not be as reliable.  Older teenagers, because of their greater capacity for understanding, may be more affected by stories. While teenagers seem to have more adult capacities to recover as well, they still need extra love, understanding and support to process these events. So be aware that, for some, their more general heightened emotion, moodiness or withdrawal may be a result of what they are trying to process (often they won’t even realise this).

5.     Give your teen extra time and attention in age appropriate ways. 
Parents, don’t underestimate the power of your own nurturing.Children and teens need your close, personal involvement to comprehend that they are safe and secure. Talk, kick a ball, journal, make a hot chocolate, offer a hug and, most importantly, listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities with your teen.

6.     Be a model for your teen.
Young people will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you deal with them. Base the amount of self-disclosure on the emotional and developmental level of each of your children. Explain your feelings but remember to do so calmly. Watch your own behavior. Make a point of showing sensitivity toward different countries, cultures and people affected by the disaster. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we are all part of one world and that we all need to support each other.

7.     Help your teen return to normal activities.
Young people almost always benefit from activity, routine and sociability. Ensure that your child’s school environment is also returning to normal patterns and not spending great amounts of time discussing the crisis in unhelpful detail.

8.     Encourage your teen to do volunteer work (where possible).
Helping others can give your teen a sense of control, security and empathy. Indeed, in the midst of crisis, adolescents and youth can emerge as active agents of positive change. Perhaps encourage your teen to help support local charities that assist children in need?

9.     “Look for the helpers.” 
Despite the mass media attention to trauma and chaos, we need to remain mindful that there are often only a few evildoers involved in reprehensible incidents. Even in the face of natural disasters, the list of people willing to do good goes on and on, growing by the minute. We see it every time – people lined up, ready to do anything to help. Point them out to your teens – the local neighbours bringing food and making donations, the kind bus driver comforting a grandma, the police officers, the fire fighters, the animal rescue workers, anyone else you notice…

10.     Look out for teens with a history of anxiety or depression. 
They can often be at increased risk, when they see bad news in the media, as the images they see and stories they hear, magnify their anxiety. These kids need a little extra patience and reassurance. Perhaps consider asking a school counsellor to chat with your child in the following weeks.


Last thoughts – Caring for survivors and their loved ones

For young people directly affected by this crisis (as well as those who have loved ones directly impacted in another area/city), parents should consider counselling. Not just for their teen, but also for the entire family.

Especially important to consider is that after a few weeks have gone by and the news moves on, onlookers tend to get on with their own lives and expect that those affected by the trauma, ‘Should be over it by now’. In fact, once the initial shock has passed and the reality has set in, it is at this time that nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms of trauma can occur. This is the time to lean in and draw near.

Teachers and parents should be alert to any significant changes in eating habits, concentration, emotion/mood, sleeping patterns, sudden bed wetting, nightmares or frequent physical complaints without apparent illness. If present, these will likely subside within a short time, but without appropriate support and care they can become prolonged.

I strongly encourage you to seek psychological support and counselling.



Please support or encourage a parent, by sharing this article with them.




Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. Find out more at www.raisingteenagers.com.au


Other resources:
Save the Children Australia
Save the Children New Zealand
Save the Children Canada
Save the Children Asia
Save the Children Europe

Your local Psychological Society or GP will also have further information.


media reported trauma and teens






Wellbeing with Collett: Bad News Media & Talking with our Children



?The Power of Family Meals

by Collett Smart
family meals


Children who take part in family meals display less delinquency, greater academic achievement, improved psychological wellbeing, more positive family interactions and eat healthier foods.

Eating meals together as a family has wonderful benefits. Frequent regular family meals (3–7 times a week) reflect a sense of family connection and priorities. It says, “We are important!”

Not a lot is known about exactly why family meals create benefits, but it is suggested that it might be due to the empathy, family cohesion, family attitudes and communication skills modelled or displayed during these times. The time together also generates feelings of closeness and comfort, providing a unique context to connect with your tweens and teens.

Although family meal time on its own is not a magic bullet for emotional health, evidence suggests that children who take part in family meals display less delinquency, greater academic achievement, improved psychological wellbeing, more positive family interactions and eat healthier foods (1).


This feels like another thing to add to the week – What should we aim for?

Start small

If you haven’t been doing ‘family meal time’, set a goal that is realistic and doable for your family.  Perhaps you might try to have a family meal at least three times per week, even if some members can’t be there occasionally, due to part-time jobs, work schedules, sport or other activities. 

A family meal also doesn’t need to be a formal affair. It could be lunch at the kitchen bench after school, a sandwich on your lap, an afternoon tea outside on the patio, or a Sunday picnic in the garden. The key factors include; no screens, the focus being on the people present, teens and adults all included in the conversation, for a designated period of time.  The meal habit communicates that time together is important. It’s OK if some teens prefer to just listen, be present and don’t want to chat every time. It is the ‘being together’ that counts.


Another goal might be to include both children and adults at the table, or in a big circle of chairs, when family friends are over for a meal. This was demonstrated to me by friends who always pull together their two odd tables when people are over (waves to Kerrie). They ensure that adults and children sit at meals together. Children and teens are included in the conversation, get to watch how other families interact and also gain the benefit of incidental mentoring by being part of adults’ discussions. Teens don’t need to sit at the table for the entire social event, but are expected to stay for the duration of the meal.

Even when it’s mayhem

It’s normal to have the turning-up-of-noses at food, bickering or irritability some days -> um… did I mention the turning-up-of-noses?  Families aren’t robots. These instances help parents to model saying sorry, how to empathise with the person who has had a bad day, to teach respectful communication and gratitude for what we have and what has been prepared. Gratitude and empathy are standouts, when teens have been part of preparing a weekly meal.

Some meal time conversation starter ideas, to try occasionally:

  • “List one good thing and one not very good thing that happened in your day.” It is vital that adults share some of their struggles as teens, in particular, often imagine that adults don’t have inner conflict.
  • “What do you think might help Dad deal with that difficult person at work this week?” Let teens help you brainstorm. Keep it age appropriate and don’t scoff at their suggestions.
  • “How did [that issue] you just spoke about make you feel today?”
  • “What did you enjoy most about your sport/flute/event this week?”
  • “Who is someone you are worried about at the moment?” 
  • (insert your own here)


One last thought

Even if meal times don’t happen during busy periods, don’t beat yourself up. That’s just life and family and being human. Just pick up where you left off. There is so much happening within the fabric of meal times that it is worth fighting to keep this habit going in your home.

Do you have any advice for us, on how you tweaked your weekly routine to add in a family meal or two? 



Please support or encourage a parent, by sharing this article with them.


Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. Find out more at www.raisingteenagers.com.au


Adapted from Conversation #6 in Collett’s book, THEY’LL be OKAY: 15 Conversations to Help Your Child Through Troubled Times (Hachette, 2019). Another version printed at Mums At the Table.



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