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Separated parents with different views on alcohol: What can you do?

We know that parents are an incredibly important influence on
their child’s views around alcohol and when they set their minds to it they can
make a real difference when it comes to their alcohol consumption. Read any parenting
book and it will tell you that the key to success in any area is that there
needs to be a consistent message on the issue. This is certainly the case with
alcohol. It is quite clear that if a young person gets mixed messages from his
parents then it’s going to be far more difficult for him/her to develop positive
attitudes towards alcohol.

Parents, if at all possible, must try to work out the rules
and boundaries they both think are appropriate, as well as the consequences if
these are broken. It is important that once the rules and boundaries are agreed
on, that neither party ‘gives in’. If there are differences of opinion
regarding the provision of alcohol, these differences and each parent’s
expectations should be openly discussed, without placing the child in the
position of conflict.

There are a number of reasons why one set of parents may
have different views on the role alcohol should play in their teen’s life. It
could have to do with their cultural background, their involvement in team
sports or a family history of alcohol problems, including dependence. Whatever
the reason for the difference it can cause real problems for a family and it is
important to try and deal with the issue as quickly as possible.

In broken relationships this may be even more difficult, as
one parent is often forced to play the ‘bad cop’ role and parent their teen
around alcohol, while the other is reluctant to enforce rules with their child
fearing that this may jeopardize the relationship.

Last week I met with Ruth, a mother who were experiencing
exactly this problem.

Ruth’s marriage had broken down and she had her two children
during the week and her ex-husband (a ‘fly-in fly-out’ father who worked on the
mines) had them over the weekends that he was in town. She was finding it
extremely difficult to control her teens (a 15 and 16 year old) when it came to
alcohol and partying because when her husband was in town and supervising them,
there were no rules. He wanted to be their ‘best friend’ and would buy them and
their friends alcohol and could see no problems with this behaviour. Ruth was
seen as being old-fashioned in her attitude towards alcohol by her husband and had
made this clear not only to his ex-wife, but also to his children. She was
being constantly undermined and had no idea where to turn next.

This is not an isolated case. There are parents across the
country who deal with this issue every weekend.

As much as you may want your child to be your ‘best friend’ (really, if you do – what is wrong with you?),
it is far more important to be a parent. Remember, your child gets one set of parents;
they will get the opportunity to make many friends. There are many other ways
of maintaining a positive relationship with a child rather than ‘giving in’ and
providing them alcohol at an early age.

I wish I had a simple answer to this problem but when a
marriage breaks down things are never going to be easy. That said, here are my
three simple tips that may assist:

Get your facts together:  Before you take on your partner on the alcohol
issue, ensure you’ve got your facts together so it’s not an emotional tirade –
a shouting match will not lead to a positive outcome. Arm yourself with good
information that supports the reasons why teens shouldn’t be drinking –
attacking their parenting, or even worse, their own drinking behaviour is not
going to go down well!

Discuss this away from the kids: Let’s hope that it doesn’t
turn into an argument, but you can never be sure what will happen, so have the
discussion away from your children. Do it when they’re in bed or away from the
house and choose your time carefully. Once again, set out your argument about
damage to bodies and brains and also the fact that early introduction to alcohol
is linked to alcohol problems later in life. Keep remembering – take out the
personal stuff – that’s never going to work … 

Seek professional help: If you can’t get agreement then it’s
a big enough issue to arrange relationship counselling, either via your GP, the
local Family Relationship Centre, or a local qualified counsellor.

We now know so much more about the impact of alcohol on the
adolescent than we did previously, particularly in regards to brain
development. The research is clear that teens who drink are more likely to have
long-term problems with alcohol. The very clear message that needs to be
communicated to all parents is delay introduction to alcohol as long as

Looking for information or support services on alcohol or drugs?

If you or a friend or family member needs assistance in this area, Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS) are available in every state and territory. Each of these are each staffed by trained professionals who can help with your query and provide confidential advice or refer you to an appropriate service in your area.

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