Survey to help parents tackle teen drinking

Oct 14 2014

Dr Conor Gilligan

A new online survey developed by researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Population Health, in collaboration with the Australian Drug Foundation, aims to help families navigate the challenges of teenage alcohol use.

With children drinking at younger ages, the research team is seeking parental feedback to tailor a national intervention targeting alcohol-related harm among adolescents.

“To ensure our program meets parents’ needs it’s important to first find out about their concerns, to understand where they access information and how satisfied they are with it,” lead researcher Dr Conor Gilligan, from the University of Newcastle, said.

“The survey will help us develop a long-term online resource that is engaging for parents. We could create a site that looks clever and pretty but the whole point is that the information must be relevant.”

Statistics show that 62 per cent of 13-year-olds have drunk at least one full serve of alcohol, while almost 60 per cent of teens report drinking every month by the age of 17. More than a third of 12-17 –year-olds intend to get drunk every time they consume alcohol.

Parents are often the primary source of alcohol in early years, according to Dr Gilligan.

“Mums and dads think they’re doing the right thing by introducing alcohol in a safe environment but we’re seeing that the earlier kids start to drink, the higher risk of heavier drinking later on in adolescence,” Dr Gilligan said.

“It’s where you start to see alcohol-related injuries and violence in later adolescence, difficulty at school, regretted sexual activity, anxiety or depression and we want to nip this behaviour in the bud.

“We accept it’s hard for parents not to do it because drinking is a normal part of Australian culture and socialising. We could tell them not to supply, and provide evidence and strategies, but we need to help parents take the message on in a way that’s appropriate for them.”

Current resources tend to be static or require parents to attend workshops, which is a burden on busy family schedules.

“Our goal is to ask parents what their circumstance are – are they a social family, what pressures are they under to supply alcohol, what are their attitudes – then deliver information that will suit that setting rather than giving blanket advice which won’t necessarily apply,” Dr Gilligan said.

Dr Gilligan said safe limits for under-age drinking were difficult to determine, but there was potential for long-term physiological impact.

“We’re not suggesting that children can’t have a single drop of alcohol because sips and tastes can allay some of the curiosity surrounding alcohol – our focus is to prevent the full serve because young people’s brains are still developing and drinking early can cause irreparable damage,” Dr Gilligan said.

Dr Conor Gilligan is a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Health Behaviour Sciences and School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

Additional: The Australian Drug Foundation has a new resource called ‘The Other Talk’ to help parents and carers discuss alcohol and drug use with their children. The website also offers a direct link to the survey.

Julie Rae, Head of Information and Research at the Australian Drug Foundation, said: “As we approach the end of the year, many young people will be attending parties, holidaying with friends and going on end-of-year trips. Parents are familiar with the talk about sex, now it’s time to have ‘The Other Talk’.”