Tuesday, December 8th, 2015


The dangers of underage drinking cannot be underestimated and the country’s leading alcoholic beverage company, The South African Breweries (SAB) hopes to empower adults with the tools to speak to youths about why they should wait before having that first sip of alcohol.

Research shows that allowing kids to consume alcohol early does not prevent later abuse, something that lenient parents are advised to remember. Teenagers are vulnerable to experimenting but underage alcohol consumption can have severe physical and psychological effects.

Teenagers who drink are far more likely to try illegal drugs. The same research shows that 67% of teens who drink before the age of 15 will go on to use illegal drugs. They are 22 times more likely to use marijuana and 50 times more likely to use cocaine.

SAB’s You Decide outreach programme, developed in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Youth Development Agency, is a series of interactive initiatives aimed at helping teens to realise how much better their futures will be if they avoid underage drinking. Its main component is a roadshow that has visited over 512 000 teenagers in over 963 schools since its launch in 2012.

Engaging with various stakeholders including Johannesburg Clinical Psychologists Sandra Brownrigg and Claire O’Mahony from the Sandton Psychology and Wellness Centre, has given SAB better insight as to why teenagers drink and how adults can help guide them.

These tips are incorporate into You Decide community workshops, which assist in educating parents on how to help guide their teenagers to live their best lives. Here is some practical advice for parents and adults on how to prevent underage drinking from taking place on their watch:

Establish your own healthy drinking habits

“It is important that parents take into consideration that young children entering into adolescence are at the stage in their life where they are trying to establish how they fit into society and can be easily persuaded, ” said O’Mahony.

“Being exposed to alcohol by their parents, who are their role models, can be seen as confusing. As a result, questions may be asked or they experiment with alcohol on their own.”

O’Mohony said it was vital that parents therefore establish healthy drinking habits and explained the impact of underage drinking on young bodies to their children. “Parents should not hide their alcohol consumption from their children and instead practice a healthy and open balance. Be open with your children about alcohol and ensure that they feel comfortable asking questions. Enforce the importance of legal age for alcohol consumption and practice healthy drinking and balance in front of your children. There should not be a ‘Do what I say and not what I do’ practice in place’ – consume responsibly in front of your children.”

Parents must be role models

Everything in moderation is an important lesson to learn and this is especially the case with alcohol, said Brownrigg.

“Binge drinking is typically experimented amongst teenagers and not knowing their limits is a difficult lesson to have to learn. Role models need to model healthy habits and instil morals around alcohol. Good adult drinking can be modelled by drinking around friends and family so that it is a social affair rather than a need.”

Brownrigg said adults often say: ‘I’ve had a bad day, I need a drink’ and that this taught young children that alcohol is a coping mechanism. “This can be seen to be unhealthy and confusing to a child when their role models are only consuming alcohol during hard times.”

Brownrigg advises that parents talk to children on their level. “Allow them to ask you questions about your drinking habits. It is vital that children have an understanding why adults drink. Parents should also be conscious of how much and how often, they drink.”

Communicate the dangers of underage drinking

“Talk to your teens about the many effects of alcohol consumption on a young person’s brain. Explain that it can impact long-term memory, cause liver damage, stunt growth and even disturb the hormonal balance necessary for normal development of organs, muscles and bones, ” O’Mahoney said. “Be open and do not leave the communication too late or rely on schools, or other adults or older siblings, to talk to your children.”

Establish boundaries and consequences if trust is abused

Brownrigg advises discussing the issue of alcohol in a non-judgmental tone so that the child does not feel interrogated or too scared to open up and discuss what is on their mind.

“Reinforce your family values and morals; consider your religious stance and how alcohol is viewed. Establish boundaries and discuss the consequences if your trust is abused.”

The importance of good communication

“Good communication is vital; do not wait until your child has used alcohol until you have this discussion with them. Peer pressure is rife at this age and children need to be made aware of good and bad choices and the knowledge that they can talk to their role model before consuming alcohol, ” O’Mahoney said.



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