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Research and advice suggests that delaying drinking is always the best choice for young people. For people under 18, the best is to not drink at all. If that doesn’t work for your situation, there are other things you can do.

Kia tū pakari, kia tū rangatira, hei raukura mō tō whānau.

Be a high achiever who exemplifies the hopes and aspirations of your whānau.

Tamaiti, tamariki, rangatahi

For many of us, our teens will come face-to-face with the issue of alcohol at some point in their young lives. It is normal to be concerned about this.

There are some common factors that influence teenage drinking:

  • early introduction to alcohol
  • access to alcohol from parents and others
  • friends who drink heavily
  • New Zealand’s drinking culture
  • access to cheap alcohol
  • alcohol marketing
  • parental relationships and attitudes to alcohol
  • conflict or bullying
  • long periods of unsupervised time.

Kaitiakitanga: be a guardian and protector

For our whānau to thrive, we want to see tamariki healthy and happy. As a kaitiaki, there are things you can do to guide the relationship between your tamariki, rangatahi, mokopuna, and alcohol.

It may not be easy for everyone, but there are things you can try that are proven to make a difference in a young person’s decision to drink.

"As we were growing up, we were allowed to drink at the age of twelve. My dad… he would rather us drink alcohol and not smoke cigarettes."
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As parents, caregivers and kaitiaki, it is important to understand you place as a role model in the lives of your tamariki and mokopuna.

If you are comfortable with talking to your whānau about drinking, you can try including:

  • what low-risk drinking looks like and why this is important
  • establishing rules for drinking responsibly and talking about how you follow your personal rules
  • encouraging our older rangatahi to be good kaitiaki for the younger whānau members.

Approaching the subject with our rangatahi can be more challenging. If you choose to do this, keep in mind that young people face a lot of social pressure and are trying to find a sense of belonging. Take time to understand their views. Listen and talk with aroha as much as you can.

A good, non-judgmental relationship with your teenager can protect them from alcohol misuse. It can also increase the chance of them seeking help from you if they are faced with an issue regarding alcohol.

To build and maintain your relationship with your teenager, you can try:

  • setting a good example
  • letting them know they’ve ‘got what it takes’ to make good choices
  • regularly demonstrating that you care about them
  • being consistent about open communication between you and them
  • following through on promises
  • enforcing rules to build trust
  • being involved in their life
  • helping them feel good about themselves
  • helping them with their problems.

Pukumahara: be cautious

Te Whatu Ora provides the following advice:

  • for people under 18, the safest option is not drinking at all
  • for people aged 15-17, the safest option is to delay drinking for as long as possible

Delaying or avoiding drinking can go a long way to preventing a range of risks for young people. This is important because: 

  • Alcohol has impacts on brain development for people under 20
  • Young people have a lower tolerance for alcohol than adults. They are at higher risk of hurting themselves when intoxicated
  • Someone who starts drinking at a younger age are at higher risk for drinking harmfully later in life.

Some people feel that introducing teenagers to drinking can teach them responsibility, but providing alcohol can be seen by a young person as giving approval. Research also shows that parents supplying alcohol can double someone’s chances of becoming a risky drinker.

Alcohol misuse and your tamariki

A good step towards protecting our whānau is to be aware of what is going on in their lives. This can help you notice when something does not feel right.

For many teenagers, there are signs and behaviours linked to drinking excessively:

  • repeated health complaints like vomiting
  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • mood changes, especially irritability
  • starting arguments, withdrawing from the family or breaking family rules
  • failing exams, missing assignments, frequent school absences or discipline problems at school
  • changes in social activities and social groups or friends
  • coming home drunk
  • smelling of alcohol on their clothes, breath or skin
  • missing sport, school, family events, or regular catchups
  • changes in behaviour, such as not being where they say they are going to be.

Some of these signs may be caused by other issues that are going on in life. If you think your teenager is abusing alcohol, you can discuss your concerns with  someone you trust to rule out other potential causes. This can be your GP, another member of your whānau, a teacher, or a friend who knows your tamariki well.

If you feel like things have moved past this point and you need extra help, you can contact the Alcohol Drug Helpline for confidential advice. They are available to call for free on 0800 786 797, or free text 8681.

"I do not want my mokos to ever see me in a state that I used to be in, never. It’s about that generational cycle of stopping it, and if they don’t see their nan doing it, they won’t have one of those memories."
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Alcohol, age and the law

In Aotearoa, the law states that people under 18 need to:

  • be actively supervised by an adult if alcohol is being served
  • get consent from their parent or legal guardian to be given alcohol
  • not drink if they are driving at all; the alcohol limit for under 20s is zero.

You are directly responsible for the actions of the person you’re looking after, so if there’s alcohol, it is best to make sure it’s within a safe environment. This includes:

  • having lots of food and water available 
  • the presence of a sober adult responsible for supervision
  • making sure people under 18 are not exceeding the adult daily drinking limit
  • the host being clear about the time, place, supervision, and transport.

If anyone gives you a hard time about this, be open about why you’re doing it. It’s not a trust issue. It is simply the law, and you’re looking out for the safety of the future generations of your whānau.

Alcohol and your kids booklet

This booklet provides information for parents and caregivers on alcohol and their teenager. You can view, order, or download it on the Alcohol and your Kids resources page.