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Saying ‘no’ to supplying alcohol to under 18s

The Western Australian (WA) Government recently announced that secondary supply legislation will be introduced in 2015. This has been a long hard battle in WA, one that is finally paying dividends.

As an active campaigner for secondary supply legislation I am thrilled at this news, but I also understand that these laws alone will not provide a miracle answer to eliminate the supply of alcohol to minors.

Many parents don’t want to supply alcohol to minors. Although they believe it is the wrong thing to do, some still do it. Similarly many young people are not actually drinking alcohol, but they feel like “everyone” else is.

How do we change this mindset? Today I read many comments on Facebook about young school leavers going to Bali to party unsupervised. Some of the comments disturbed me.

So I began to wonder, why do some parents let their teenagers travel to Bali? And why do some parents supply their own, and sometimes other peoples, underage kids with alcohol?

I believe that both these scenarios are the result of similar reasoning, with parents believing some, or all, of the following:

  • Some parents don’t want their kids to feel left out. They believe their kids when they say that “everyone” they know is drinking, going to a party or even going to Bali.
  • Some parents don’t want to be judged by other parents, and can feel pressured by other parents to let their own kids take part.
  • Some parents think that supplying their underage kids with alcohol will teach them how to drink ‘responsibility’ and be a protective factor.
  • Some parents assume that everyone else’s parents will also supply alcohol for gatherings.
  • Some parents can’t seem to say no even though they are uneasy with the decision. In reality parenting a teen is tough.
  • Sometimes teens that are told “no” give their parents a hard time. Often the conflict is too much and parents give in just to resolve the conflict.

Parents own alcohol consumption can affect their views about their children consuming alcohol and whether or not they would consider supplying alcohol to underage children.

Like it or not, the truth is that children model their beliefs and behaviours off what they see other adults do. As parents we need to take a hard look at our own behaviour, even if it is confronting and challenges our perceptions, and ask ourselves the following:

  • What role does alcohol play in our own lives?
  • How much are we drinking, and what level of alcohol consumption are we normalising for our kids?
  • Do we bring or consume alcohol whenever we have a social function – with or without our kids?
  • How much are our kids listening and watching? Do we say things like, “I need a beer/glass of wine because I have had a busy day/feel stressed”?
  • Can we say no to our own desire to consume alcohol? Or are there days where we know that we shouldn’t be drinking, but still do?

I am not saying that we should never, ever drink alcohol again. But I am suggesting that we need to acknowledge the impact of alcohol in our own lives before we can begin to see the influence we have upon our children.

This advice is not intended to be judgmental, so before accusing me of that please note that I myself have been through this process of reassessing my relationship with alcohol and found it to be a useful exercise.

As responsible parents and adults, we need to be strong and not afraid of potential conflict with teens. They need us to say no. Even if we feel like we are the only ones saying it.

Secondary supply legislation is a ‘tough love’ deterrent with a massive capacity to keep teens from binge drinking and to educate parents and other adults who supply alcohol to under 18’s that it is the wrong thing to do.

The legislation forms part of a comprehensive approach to reducing harm from alcohol amongst our young people. Adults who continue to supply alcohol to under 18’s risk getting caught out and fined.

If parents are worried that they or their children will not “fit in” just because they won’t provide liquor, that’s a sign that we have a long way to go in changing the alcohol culture in Australia.

Successful alcohol education campaigns should incorporate a focus on parents, like that seen in the recent efforts of the Alcohol Think Again campaign in WA.

Saying “no” to under 18’s when they ask for alcohol sounds so simple but in reality it is much more complicated, and difficult to enforce, so support and education for adults is key.

Our kids need us to say no, to see us respect the laws that apply to alcohol consumption including the secondary supply of alcohol to minors and to have open discussions with them about this.

After all “children learn what they live” and we want to make sure they are learning the right message.

Sam Menezes

Sam Menezes

Sam is a mum of four children and a third year Health Science- Health Promotion student at Curtin University. Her passion is advocating for the reduction of harm from alcohol to young people focusing on legislation and policy supported by community education. Sam has been an avid campaigner for the introduction of secondary supply laws in WA and would like this legislation to be introduced in SA and ACT. Her background is nursing and working in the dental industry.

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