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Category: Underage Drinking

Busting the myths of teen drinking

This week we learned some hard facts about teen drug and alcohol consumption when Western Australia released its figures for the Australian School Students Alcohol and Drug Survey. Teens, especially girls, are drinking alcohol at damaging levels.

More than a quarter of students aged 12-17 had drunk alcohol in the past week. More than a quarter of the boys aged 14-17 who had drunk in the past week had done so at dangerous levels: 7 or more drinks in a day.

The figure was even worse for the girls. Nearly a third of those aged 14-17 who had drunk in the last week had reached dangerous levels: 5 or more drinks in a day (the limit is lower because of physical differences).

The greatest binge drinkers? 17-year-old girls.

These figures are heartbreaking. To me, they tell a story of the pain teen girls are seeking an escape from, and the pressures they face to be sexy, grown-up, uninhibited. They have a false belief that drinking alcohol is empowering, when in fact it’s a train crash waiting to happen. Alcohol companies continue to push “alcopops”, and hotels offer mixed drinks aimed at young women, such as champagne and Red Bull.

But retailers may not be the greatest problem: almost half of the students who drank in the past week got the alcohol from their mother or father.

From my work in schools, I believe that these WA figures are a good picture of what is going on all around the country. Lucy, a 16-year-old student in NSW, told me how obsessed the girls in her year at school were about the alcohol they were going to drink at a party one weekend.

They all made bets on who was going to out-drink who, and who was going to get drunk enough to hook up with random people.

One girl was asking for advice on what drinks she could mix together to get herself “smashed” quicker, and another was bragging about her mum buying her alcohol to take to the party.

No doubt some of the parents who supply their children with alcohol are just plain negligent, but I’m betting many are parents who show great care and concern about other aspects of their children’s lives. They probably taught them to always buckle their seat belt, never talk to strangers and always wear their bike helmet. They probably worry about their kids’ safety getting to and from school, their marks and finding the right career. It just so happens that they also believe old (and dangerous) myths about teenagers and drinking. Some of the arguments I’ve heard:

They’re going to drink alcohol anyway. It’s safer if they do it at home where I can keep an eye on them.

Kids need to learn now how to handle their alcohol so they don’t get in trouble with it later on.

Alcohol isn’t as harmful as other drugs.

If I don’t let them drink, they might do something worse.

It is my great hope that if all parents understand the truth about under-age drinking, we will finally be free of these myths.

There is no such thing as safe teen drinking. It is never okay to supply under-age kids with alcohol or tolerate under-age drinking. And this is why:

Grow a brain. The brain keeps maturing until around 20 years of age. Less alcohol is needed to cause damage to a teenager’s brain than an adult’s, and the damage takes place much faster. The damage can permanently alter the brain. A teenage drinker is more likely to suffer falling marks at school. As an adult, she may be stuck with memory problems, learning difficulties, poor verbal skills, depression and a tendency to addiction.

Have no regrets. A teenager’s brain is also not yet fully developed for reasoning or thinking about consequences; it is far more finely tuned to respond to situations emotionally. Combine this with alcohol and you truly have a worrying cocktail. Many girls regret decisions they have made and embarrassing things they have done while under the influence.

Stay safe. Drinking makes teen girls feel invincible, but they are actually far more at risk when they are intoxicated. Their judgment is compromised; their reflexes are slowed; they are physically awkward. They are at greater risk of violent and sexual assaults. I am not blaming the victim: it is never her fault. But being drunk does make girls easier targets, as predators look for vulnerability.

Stay healthy. Drugs such as amphetamines and heroin are not the only threat to the health of our kids. Each year, more than 260 young Australians die from risky drinking behaviour. Binge drinking can lead to acute toxicity that at the best requires hospitalisation and at worse leads to death. Alcohol increases the risk of injuries from falls and road accidents, and in the long term increases the risk of stroke, breast cancer and liver disease.

Delay now, or pay the price later. There is no benefit in “teaching” kids how to handle their alcohol. In fact, research shows that when parents allow their children to drink at home, it normalises drinking and lowers the children’s inhibitions to drink. Studies also show that delaying a person’s introduction to alcohol lowers their risk of developing long-term problems with drinking.

As parents, we need to take responsibility for our kids’ drinking. A study conducted by St Peter’s Collegiate Girl’s School, in Adelaide, showed that girls actually want enforced curfews and they do not want parents to turn a blind eye to teen drinking. Teenagers crave boundaries and limits, because the pressure is then taken off them to make all the decisions.

So let’s set boundaries. Let’s set good examples.  Let’s talk with our teenage kids openly and honestly about alcohol. And offer them things to do on the weekend that are way more fun than getting wasted.

Wall of Shame

The healthy Beer?

What was Jessica Simpson ( who is not only the spokesperson for this new brand of beer but also an investor in the brewery that manufacturers it) thinking when she got involved in a range that obviously targets young female drinkers in the most irresponsible way?

The singer, 28, says in the campaign: “I work out and take care of myself. But I also like a cold beer once in a while. That’s why I made the smart choice with a smart beer. Stampede Light, it’s beer plus.”

Yes, it is light beer infused with vitamins…I kid you not. The company’s web site declares it contains vitamin B and is “made from pure spring water…geared towards the health-conscious.”

Take Me On The Floor

Australian Rock group The Veronicas (twins Jess and Lisa Origliasso) are heavily marketed towards the tween demographic. They have a highly successful clothing range for girls aged 7-16 which is sold at Target stores and are regular cover girls for tween magazines. In recent interviews, the twins have acknowledged that fans as young as four go along to their concerts:  “For our last record (their debut, Exposed: The Secret Life of the Veronicas) we were surprised by the age demographic it appealed to – we had kids as young as four coming, but adults as well,” Lisa says.

What will their devoted tween fans make of their new single “Take Me On The Floor”? The film clip is simply soft-porn. Shots of the now almost obligatory girl on girl kissing, lots of gyrating and close ups of thighs being groped…the lyrics include an incredible amount of heavy breathing (do they suffer from asthma perhaps?) and the mantra “I wanna kiss a girl, I wanna kiss a girl, I wanna kiss a boy, I wanna … ” The dancers meanwhile writhe uncontrollably as they all “take each other” on the dance floor ( all this at 9am on Saturday morning TV, before I’ve even had my Coco Pops!)

 

When asked about the move towards highly sexual lyrics in their new album “Hook Me Up ” when the album was first released way back in October last year in an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, Lisa offered this:   

I think in the music world today that (sex) is a very big part of all songs…You can’t really listen to one song on the radio that isn’t referring to relationships or that whole thing. Every song seems to be about that, it seems to be driven by that. I don’t think this is any different. It’s just a fun song. You know, you can interpret how you want to. But I think kids are a little bit more wise these days … I mean kids have boyfriends when they’re 12. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 15,” she adds, with a laugh. “

So Lisa wasn’t ready for her first kiss until she was 15, but children nowadays should be ready for anything much earlier? And sorry, but unless I am missing something this new song is not about a relationship at all, the opening line states: “I barely know you…”

My 9 year old daughter had a Veronicas t-shirt.

It’s been binned.

Ralph magazine makes me ralph

Ralph maagzine hit a record low (and that is saying something!) with their pictorial of ex-Big Brother “star” Brigitte this month. She is posed in scanty lingerie, proudly exposing her fake breats – on a bed surrounded by children’s cuddly toys, with a baby’s dummy in her hand! One can only assume readers are meant to be aroused by her child-like appeal. Disgusting. Devastating.

And, what sage advice does she offer to readers? When asked what she would do if she became PM she offered this: “I’d probably give everyone free boob jobs. I think guys would appreciate the girls getting them.”

Seems our work is far from done…          

 

A Lot To Lose

In a number of past posts we have discussed the binge drinking epidemic in our youth:

Let’s get smashed – a South Australian perspective

Getting Trashed is so hot right now 

I discovered the following series of short films on site www.2much2lose.com. I believe they will be great catalyst for conversation.

The films are all part of a teen directive started by the Century Council, a Washington based non-profit organisation aimed at curbing youth drinking. This particular campaign aimed at encouraging girls to see that underage drinking is not worth the adverse consequences it can cause.

The Council’s “Reel Girls, Real Life” contest encouraged girls nationwide to submit concepts for television Public Service Announcements to dissuade peers from drinking. The winner, Kylee Darcy’s films feature two teen girls, “Kristen” and “Sarah,” who are shocked to discover that a video of “Sarah” drinking at a party surfaced on a social networking web site – “What You Don’t Know”. The girls explain that they felt “Alone,” were “Benched” and got “Busted.”


The following questions may be useful starting points ( thanks to my program Director for Queensland, Storm Greenhill Brown, for her help with these):

1. Australian studies have shown that as many as one in five teenage girls say they have done something they regret when drunk. Have you ever observed others acting in a way they wouldn’t normally act as they were drunk? How did this make you feel?
2. This series focuses on some of the possible social ramifications of binge drinking. What physical dangers are there in excessive drinking? How are you more vulnerable and exposed?
3. What steps could you take to minimise risks like this for yourself and your friends?
4. When you see a group of friends behaving in a way that makes you anxious what would you do? How could you take control of the situation?
5. The teenager in the clip says that she didn’t realise that she was so “out of control” – is that boundary easy to cross?
6. What, in your opinion, would be the top three reasons that teenage girls binge drink and why?
7. Do you think that this campaign on the negative effects of binge drinking is successful in getting its message across? How could it be better?

Let’s get smashed – a South Australian perspective on teen drinking

Guest post written by Enlighten Eduaction’s Program Manager for South Australia, Jane Higgins.

What is really happening to our young people when they drink themselves into unconsciousness? Why do they feel the need to do this? What is missing from their lives?

According to recent media headlines, youth binge drinking has risen to epidemic proportions. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Director Penny Allbon, has reported that 9% of South Australian  adolescents (some 11,000 young people aged 14-19) are drinking alcohol at risky levels.

Further,
 one in five 16 -17 yr olds binge drinks weekly (1)
 44%, 12 yr olds have drunk alcohol in the past 12 months (2)
 24% of young people have used cannabis, 9% ecstasy and 8% amphetamines (3) and
 25% of deaths in this age group are related to alcohol (4).

It begs the question, what is being lost every week? Not just the many brain cells or lives, but the self esteem, the sense of self-worth, and the contributions these young people could be making to their own lives and the lives of others.

In Australia drinking is a significant part of every rite of passage. The ABC program 4 Corners (9-6-08) presented a segment called “On the Piss”. A young woman profiled articulated it beautifully when she said “What’s a wedding without booze? What’s a funeral without booze?” getting drunk is indeed a national pastime. It highlighted how young people are finding it incredibly difficult not to drink as alcohol surrounds them at every event they go to, and is a major element in the life of everyone they are connected to. The excellent new anti-drinking campaign “Drink Wise”, launched by the Australian Government, also challenges us to rethink this “booze goes with everything” approach.  

While alcohol has become part of every event we celebrate, drinking also occurs even when there is no  celebration, no milestone being marked. Some of today’s youth are drinking way beyond the glass of champagne or stubbie of beer at a friend’s birthday. They are regularly consuming a bottle of vodka in a session and then teaming it up with a caffeine loaded drinks such as Red Bull or V to make sure that when they are really drunk they are also really buzzed too. In a recent study of 4,271 University Students in the USA, they found mixing caffeine and alcohol resulted in the students being twice as likely to:

 be hurt and require medical attention
 travel with a drunk driver
 be at risk of being taken advantage of sexually.

I find these statistics very, very concerning. But sadly, not surprising.

What did surprise me was another article published in The Sunday Mail (9-6-08) on how being drunk and posting the antics on My Space, Facebook or YouTube has now become an instant means of gaining celebrity status for some young people. I personally don’t find anything glamorous about having vomit all over oneself, or having to spend the night in hospital from an injury caused by drunkenness, let alone knowing that those pictures are out in cyber space for all to see! This trend has particular implications for young women for as we have seen in the media, society is generally less forgiving of vision of the fallen woman – I cannot imagine headlines screaming about a male actor getting drunk and passing out in quite the same way they do when it is a Britney or a Paris. 

The Sunday Mail also visited Hindley Street to obtain a snap shot of what is really going on there on a Saturday night. Their video, Adelaide’s Binge Drinking Shame, can be viewed at
http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/video/. 

We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend this issue is not real. What is motivating this epidemic, and how do we protect our kids from doing so much harm to themselves and other people?

I don’t profess to have all the answers. However, my experiences as a mother, counsellor and as a senior presenter with Enlighten Education all lead me to conclude that we must strengthen our children’s sense of themselves, and educate them. We must teach them how to respond thoughtfully and authentically when they are faced with a decision about whether to bow to peer, and media, pressure. We must develop in them a deep sense of knowing what is really healthy and right for them. We must love them deeply too, and give them a strong sense of their uniqueness, beauty and purpose in the world.

Sanctions will only work up onto a point: we can limit the hours bars are open, tax alcohol, and ban alcopops, but in the end what do we really want? We want them to make safe and healthy choices for themselves and the only way of doing this is by teaching them to love themselves and showing them that they are indeed incredibly precious.

I favour a proactive appraoch. If our young people are personally fulfilled they will make better choices and limit the harm they do to themselves and others.

And binge drinking will no longer be needed to fill an empty void.

1. “Supporting Families of Young People with Problematic Drug Use”, 2008 released by the Government’s Advisory Body, The National Council On Drugs.
2. V. White, J. Hayman ‘Australian secondary school students’ use of alcohol in 2005 Report’ June 2006, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer at The Cancer Council Victoria
3. Teen Health, 2007 Vol 257 Issues in Society – Spinney Press
4. Professor John Toumbourou – Deakin University

P.S Danni’s previous post, “Getting trashed is so hot right now“, also offers some powerful insights into teen drinking and links to some really helpful resources.

Letter to my teen self

I have lifted this idea straight from Oprah’s magazine, April 2006 edition.

If you could write a note of advice to your teen girl self, knowing all that you know now, what would you say to her? I love this exercise as it encourages reflection, empathy with the plight of our young women and affirms the wisdom and strength we have gained.

Below is the feminist Naomi Wolf’s contribution:

 

And here is mine:

Dear Teenage Danni,

What a conflicted young girl you are! Your head and heart tell you that your strength lies in your intelligence and willingness to fight for what you believe in, yet you spend most weekends drowning these voices in cheap spumante and focusing only on your body’s imperfections. Stop fighting with yourself Dan – you are magnificent as you are. You can’t airbrush all your perceived imperfections and guess what? Even if you could, later on in life it is these very scars that you now hate so much that will make you unique and shiny. It is just going to take time for you to grow into yourself …trust me. It will all be more than just ok. It will be brilliant.

In the mean time, just breathe.  And keep reading . The words you are surrounding yourself with are slowly healing you. Words will always soothe you.

Be kind to your sister.

Go and kiss your Grandfather. He will always remain one of the great loves of your life and you will miss him terribly when he is lost to you.

Make up more “secret” clubs with your friends and continue nominating yourself to be Captain. It is all good practice for when you will run your own company one day.

Practice forgiveness.

Know that mistakes are not devastating. You’ll make many and will learn from them all.  

Ditch the 80’s perm.

Love, light and laughter to you growing girl,

Danni   

I’d love to read your letters!

I also wanted to share the image below with you as after writing this I went searching for a picture of my teenage self and this photo literally fell out of the album and landed at my feet; and how special that it is a photo of my Grandfather and I! I actually don’t even recall ever seeing it before – and what a gorgeous shot it is. I am 8 years old. You can see the love written all over my little face can’t you?

Let’s never understimate how vital connections to the older generation are, and how influential we can all be in shaping our children.  

                       

Love you Grandpa. Miss you always. XXXX 

Club 21, “girl world” exposed: binge drinking, bullying, low self esteem and distorted body image.

AND the importance of moving beyond finger pointing.

Queensland school girls have formed an exclusive club, known as Club 21, which encourages members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. This number is then drawn on their hand for all to see.

The club not only operates at St Patrick’s Mackay, but has gone global via the internet and chat rooms.

This story has caused significant shock in the media. However it is unlikely this type of bullying – of each other and those who didn’t make it into the club – came as a shock to many teen girls. It was likely no surprise to their teachers either, who witness the various manifestations of the “Compare and Despair” game that teen girls are so good at playing, in playgrounds right across Australia. Recent studies show three out of five teen girls report being teased about their appearance at school. Girls in particular judge themselves and each other on how they look and on how popular they are bohabbo143v2.jpgth with other girls, and with boys.

When I was a teen girl at high school much of lunch time was spent rating our peers. It was our own little real life version of the magazines we grew up with that asked us, in virtually every issue, to decide whether particular clothes were in, or whether a celebrity was hot or not. We felt powerful playing these games – we may not have been able to control many elements of our lives, but we tried to control how we looked through diets, and we could definitely control each other through ridicule.

We may not have had a number reflecting these scores branded on our hands, but the scores were branded on our psyches.

The rules in girl rating games, both then and now, are not difficult to follow. Be considered hot by your peers and in particular by boys – and score points. Getting a highly desired boyfriend means an instant advance to the top of the club. I was lucky enough to have landed the school “spunk” at one stage and was elevated from classroom “brainiac” to the girl everyone wanted to know almost over night. He dumped me a year later for a girl considered even hotter – at just 14 she was already a model appearing in women’s magazines and parading in labels sold only to rich thirty-somethings. My dream run at the top of the charts was destroyed.

What makes this latest story of highly organised girl competiveness newsworthy is the use of technology to spread the ranks.

In my early years as a teacher in High Schools, I found it relatively easy to intercept notes critiquing other girls. Technology means these same messages can now can reach thousands of recipients in moments. Harmful messages found on toilet walls could be scrubbed off – it is much more difficult to delete messages once they have gone global.

The potential for misuse of the cyber world is alarming. But we cannot blame the internet alone. It is after all merely a tool, it is all too easy to blame the evils of technology rather than examining why our society has become more and more toxic for our young people.

Just why has girl self hatred gone mainstream and global?

Years of watching reality TV and being invited to rank contestants and evict / put below the yellow line / vote off those not entertaining enough or thin enough or sexy enough to keep us interested have no doubt played a role. And if Paris can get famous for being rich, thin and for sleeping around why can’t they? Elements of the media have been most hypocritical in their reporting of this incident. They have judged these girls harshly when these young women have really only responded to the fodder they have been fed by these same image obsessed magazines; magazines that perpetuate the misconception that success is dependent largely on appearances and sexual desirability.

875_930839180_paris_hilton2_h183221_l.jpg

This incident is also a sad reflection of a society that makes our girls feel lonely. When they cannot find real connection at school, or at home, they look for it in cyber world and find all their deepest and darkest fears and fantasies fed on sites that promote eating disorders as a lifestyle choice, sites celebrating images of “girls gone wild” trashed and flashing their breasts at parties.

The reality is many women play this same compare and despair game too. Studies have shown that while up to 65per cent of teenage girls think they are less beautiful than the average girl, 84 per cent of women over 40 think they are less beautiful than the average woman. A survey released by the Australian Women’s Weekly just this week found that only one in six women were happy with their weight, one in five had such a poor body image they avoided mirrors and 45 per cent would have cosmetic surgery if they could afford it. Binge drinking appeared to be rife too, with a third of the women surveyed drinking too much and one in five women admitting she had been told she had a drinking problem.

As grown up women we no longer rank ourselves from 1-21 but many of us do get up in the morning and let the number that flashes up on our scales dictate our mood for the day.

Many of us tell our daughters they do not need to change in order to be beautiful while we rush for botox. We tell them inner beauty counts whilst we invest in plastic surgery and devour magazines that tell us that it is really only about air brushed perfection after all.

We may saddened by Club 21, but why are we shocked? Girls cannot be what they cannot see. If even the grown up girls are comparing and despairing, is it any wonder that our daughters do not know what “I am me, I am ok” looks like?

978015_julia.jpg

Let’s not blame the victims here. After all, these are young girls – pushing boundaries, exploring and making mistakes. We shouldn’t fall into the easy trap of simply making these girls out to be uber bitches. Rather, they are a sad reflection of the times. We need to dig a little deeper and address the toxic messages our girls are fed and ensure these are countered with positive body image programs and messages of strength and resilience.

News flash! With the upgrades to Edublog, I can now upload the audio of an interview I did with Prue McSween on this topic. Enjoy!

  Click to listen – Dannielle Miller and Prue McSween on cyber bullying and Club 21, Radio 2UE. mp3

Getting Trashed is SO HOT right now.

 15606.jpg

New Foxtel show “Gossip Girl” is causing an uproar with its scenes of underage drinking – teenage star Serena downs vodka shots like Carrie downed Cosmopolitans. But is this just art imitating life? Young female celebrities are famous predominately because they regularly binge drink and go into rehab; there are entire web sites devoted to drunk celebrities ( all of those featured are female). Whilst back in the “real world,” Facebook features profiles with pictures posted by young women that proudly show themselves passed out when drunk, drinking beer on the toilet, vomiting…

American site Feministing, aimed at radical young feminists,  argues this phenomena is no biggie – girls and women should have the right to get just as trashed as the boys and should not feel pressured to act “lady like”:

“I can take the health line of approach that maybe binge drinking isn’t good for you, but the young women should know better or should be ashamed doesn’t work for me. I am always weary of shaming women for things that men do freely. Guys in college get wasted as a ritual, they don’t have to hide it from future employers, in fact they are practicing to drink with future co-workers. But women have to be careful not to ruin their ladylike manners.”

I don’t like double standards either but I do think binge drinking in women, and particularly in our young women, is deeply concerning.

The fact is that research shows teen drinking is on the rise and not just accepted, but expected. This is not new – all the “cool kids” got trashed when I was in High School too  – myself included. Why we thought it was cool to vomit all over ourselves and stumble about alludes me now but it certainly was the thing to do.  Drinking excessively has become a huge issue for teenage girls – recent Australian surveys show that half say they drink alcohol, with one in five confessing to having done something they regret while they were drunk.

The fact is that drinking, even in small amounts, affects women differently than men. And heavy drinking, in some ways, is much more risky for women than it is for men as we are more quickly affected by alcohol and much more vulnerable to the effects of overindulging. Keeping up with the boys is not a badge of honour – it is dangerous. The attached PDF put together by the Commonwealth Government is well worth reading:  womenshealth.pdf

I am concerned too by by the emotional damage our girls are doing to themselves – one in five confess to doing something they regret when drunk. 

The reality is that young girls are also at risk of sexual assault and violence when they are drunk and vulnerable. Let me be very clear here – I am NOT BLAMING THE VICTIMS. It is NEVER their fault. All I am saying is that being drunk does make you less able to think clearly and may make you a target if some vile predator is lurking…and of course the predator may well be a trusted friend of someone within the home. That is not fair, it is not right, it is unjust – but it is also reality. If girls are going to drink, they need to at the very least ensure they stay together and watch out for each other.

Blaming “Gossip Girl” and the media would be all too easy. I am more concerned by the prevalence of unsupervised teen partying.  Teens focus on the here and now, not the prospects down the road. A good lecture and then sending them off into the night won’t cut it. God knows I would glaze over when my mother talked about damage to my liver – I was 16 and invincible!

Do discuss the risks. But also be practical – know where your kids are, discuss whether or not alcohol will be present and how you both feel about this, know what time they’ll be home and how they will get home, and if the party is at your place – actively supervise.

Finally – consider cutting back on the chardonnay. It is unrealistic to expect your daughter to listen to you tell her that she doesn’t need to drink to have fun if every time visitors come around you drink excessively.  

Image from Gossip Girl – Blair and her Mother at Xmas:

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I stopped drinking completely over two years ago. I knew I was a born binger and wanted to hang up the wine glass before the kids got old enough to notice Mummy boozing on.

Sorry Feministing but it ain’t pretty and we should know better.    

P.S Talk about timely – a Government report widely published in the media on the 18th declares teen drinking is reaching epidemic proportions with children as young as 10 in rehabilitation for alcholism. The Sun Herald published a very interesting article blaming parents on the 19th: Parent’s Branded Gutless Over Teenage Boozers.

  

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