Drink Tank

Parents supported to reduce adolescent alcohol use

The WA Minister for Health and Mental Health, the Hon. Roger Cook MLA has announced continuing Healthway funding for the next phase of the Alcohol.Think Again “Parents, Young People and Alcohol” (PYPA) campaign.

This positive investment means that WA parents and community members will continue to receive clear messages to support them to reduce under 18s risks of harms from alcohol.

Since 2012, the PYPA mass media campaigns, Cogs and I See, have reinforced the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Guideline that for under 18s, no alcohol is the safest option, and the key campaign message “No one should provide alcohol to under 18s”. Parents are a key target for this campaign as the things they do and say can have an important influence on their child’s use or non-use of alcohol.

Research published recently in Drug and Alcohol Review, authored by myself and colleagues, has associated the PYPA campaign with improvements in WA parents’ knowledge, beliefs and actions on young peoples’ alcohol use.

Cross-sectional surveys of about 400 WA parents of 12-17-year-olds were conducted before the campaigns (in 2012), during Cogs in 2013, and again during I See in 2015. Results showed almost half of the parents had seen the Cogs campaign in 2013, while 8 in 10 said they had seen I See in 2015. Almost 9 in 10 parents found the campaigns believable and relevant.

At both post-tests, parents were more aware of the NHMRC guideline for young people (“For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option”) than were parents before the campaign.

These results highlight the importance of sustained campaigns that achieve high audience exposure and deliver consistent messages.

The results also suggest mass media campaigns can play a role in correcting commonly held myths and misperceptions about early parental alcohol provision. In 2015, parents were more than twice as likely to disagree that giving your under 18-year-old child alcohol teaches them to drink responsibly, or controls the amount they drink, compared to parents before the campaign.

In 2015, parents were also almost twice as likely to have discussed the risks of alcohol and limiting drinking with their child, compared to parents in 2012.  About 3 in 5 parents at each survey said they had never given their child alcohol.

Other results were more variable.

In 2013, parents had more negative attitudes to children drinking and parental supply of alcohol, compared to parents in 2012, but by 2015 parent attitudes were no different to those of parents before the campaign.

The improvements in parents’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours are promising, given the PYPA mass media campaign was delivered within a media market saturated with alcohol promotions. An ongoing mass media campaign supported by policies that limit alcohol marketing and availability and address alcohol pricing may be needed if we are to see further changes in parent attitudes and non-supply of alcohol to under 18s.

While such approaches would require commitment from all levels of government, the funding of well-designed, long-term mass media campaigns is an important contribution to public health by the WA Government.

Over time, campaigns can contribute to changing social norms and generating support for environmental changes that facilitate positive behaviour change. Such an outcome would be a positive return on investment and a valuable result for parents and the children they care for.

The Parents, Young People and Alcohol campaign was developed by the WA Government’s Mental Health Commission supported by the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and Telethon Kids Institute.

Robyn Johnston

Dr Robyn Johnston is a Research Associate with the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth. Robyn and the Alcohol Advertising Review Board team welcome complaints from the Australian community about inappropriate alcohol advertising.

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