Last week, a new parliamentary inquiry found there should be stricter rules around parents and other adults supplying alcohol to under-18s at home or at parties.
It’s a tough topic to tackle. And one that has always been a no-win situation for parents with teens. Should you impose a zero tolerance policy at home? Or is it more realistic to take the ‘lesser of the two evils’ approach and teach your kids how to drink responsibly by, ironically, relaxing the alcohol ban under your own roof?
Reading articles about this debate transported me back to an ACDC concert at Sale Memorial Hall circa 1976. That night, my friends and I downed a bottle of Southern Comfort, mixed with coke in a milkshake container, during the short window of opportunity between parents dropping us off and going inside.
Memories of Bon Scott and Angus Young are sketchy despite being close to the front of the stage; I was too busy trying to stay conscious. Rather, my recollection of the concert are from a ground level perspective, watching people swish through a pool of my vomit with the hems of their Staggers flairs and maxi skirts, oblivious to the mess in the dark.
It wasn’t the end of my teenage encounters with alcohol and the consequences, although you might think I’d have learnt a lesson. Vodka, Bourbon and Brandavino were consumed behind country halls, in car parks and the grungy rented accommodation of older friends. We had no trouble buying it; either choosing the oldest looking person in the group to do the transaction; or asking an obliging older person to buy it for us.
By the age of 16 we had moved our drinking culture from halls and houses to pubs playing live music or discos, at the same time as the law began to crack down, with police raids on venues and the enforcement of .05 laws.
Our parents thought we were safely tucked up at each other’s houses under the supervision of other people’s parents. Instead we were managing logistics; planning transport, acquisition of booty and the infiltration of over 18 venues; keeping one step ahead of parents and police.
Almost four decades later, one whiff of the spirits of my youth causes my nose to wrinkle in disgust. My alcohol consumption today amounts to the odd glass of wine. It wasn’t the raw tasting alcohol or its ill-effects that held the appeal, but the processes surrounding its encounter: surreptitiousness, subterfuge, and rebellion. Now surrounded by teenagers of my own and their friends, I have learnt that the allure of illicit pursuits is exactly the same as it was in the past.
Our plans to host a teenage birthday party elicited gasps of disbelief and a raft of horror stories from adults who had been there before. Forget food and fairy lights – think security guards, elaborate check-in procedures and police back-up.
At our son’s joint 18th party, we insisted on parental permission notes to accompany alcoholic drinks, brought along by the almost-18s. My job was to collect the notes and check them off against the guest list. The darkness prevented me from reading them properly and the next day it was clear that notes such as this one: “Dos, Meado, Meados, Meadosimos and The Dos can drink,” sounded suspiciously like it wasn’t written by his mother. Everything everyone warned us about hosting teenage parties is true – it was tough.
While the evidence is clear that Australian culture in general has too many alcohol related problems, prohibition is never going to work. Buying small amounts of alcohol for your own teenagers removes the challenge of the banned and offers the chance to begin to encourage responsible consumption of alcohol. And besides, like generations before them, they will find it and drink it regardless.