6th January, 2021 — Protective factors

Role models: All eyes on you

As a parent or coach, you're a role model to the young people in your life.

Kids love to mirror the behaviours of those they admire the most. Their sports stars definitely. And yes, parents and coaches, that also means you.

They want their hair cut the same as Cristiano Ronaldo, the same grace and speed as Cathy Freeman, or they might want to be just like Dad. You might not be a sports star, but kids look up to those closest to them – and follow what they do.

Watching the example of grown-ups around them – including adults at their sports club - is one of the reasons why. When kids see their role models drinking, they tend to want to follow suit.

Actions speak louder than words

Showing is a much more powerful tool than telling. Telling kids, they aren’t allowed to drink is one thing. It’s much more effective to also show them what responsible drinking looks like.

It is all part of prevention and protection. By changing when, where and how much you drink in front of them you could:

  • reduce underage drinking
  • change the way they view alcohol
  • limit the harms from alcohol
  • see benefits to your own health.

Under 18s

As they inch towards their 18th birthday, young people ditch the school uniform, take a few risks, push the boundaries and want to try new things.

Although they might be on a journey of self-discovery, it’s important that they hold off from having their first drink for as long as possible.

Recent research suggests that introducing young people to alcohol too early can mean they start drinking earlier. It even increases their risk of an alcohol dependence.


  • it is illegal for bar staff or bottle shops to serve or sell alcohol to people under the age of 18
  • it’s against the law to serve alcohol in a private home to anyone under 18 years old, unless you are the young person’s parent or guardian, or in the case of most states and territories you have permission from the parent/guardian
  • alcohol impacts brain development
  • young people are more sensitive to alcohol than adults
  • underage drinking can have a long-term health impact.

How to be a great role model

You can’t always stop them eating junk food for breakfast. Or playing their favourite music or video game non-stop. Sometimes they’re just going to do what they’re going to do.

There isn’t a perfect way to delay kids from drinking alcohol.

But there are a few things you can do now to prevent underage drinking and keep them safe:

  • Model the same behaviour you expect from them
  • Have the talk about alcohol and its risks, but don’t make it a lecture and make sure you have all the facts
  • Set clear expectations and boundaries at home or out
  • Keep tabs on where they are and get to know their friends
  • Talk to their friends’ parents and develop a united voice on alcohol
  • Have enjoyable and meaningful conversations around the dinner table together
  • Let them know that no question is a stupid question – they can ask you anything.

Talk about alcohol with your kids

Having a serious chat with kids can be tricky at the best of times.

However, experts agree that it’s useful for young people to have a basic understanding of what alcohol is from as early as eight years old. Although they haven’t tried alcohol, it’s important to start talking about it.

If you aren’t sure where to start or what to cover off, here are a few pointers.

Get the facts

  • Find resources relevant to their age group on government health websites. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Use existing resources to help explain the harms and effects of alcohol so that they can clearly understand what you are trying to say.
  • Australian guidelines state that anyone under 18 should not drink alcohol to help prevent negative impacts on the developing brain and riskier levels of drinking when they are older. Your child may experience peer group pressure and tell you that ’everyone drinks alcohol’ but evidence shows this is not the case.
  • The brain continues growing until people are in their early twenties. Alcohol can affect its development for critical functions like memory, learning and emotional stability.

Set clear expectations

  • Young people like to push boundaries and test rules. That’s part of being a teenager. Be clear on your expectations and house rules.
  • Explain why there are rules but relate it to their age-group. You could explain how drinking alcohol can be harmful to the way they play sport, performing well at school or socialising with their friends.
  • Let them know your thoughts on alcohol and other drugs, and the types of behaviour you expect from them.

Keep it real

  • Have informal conversations around the dinner table.
  • Ask a few questions first to see how much they already know about alcohol. You never know where they got their facts from, so you might have to bust a few myths.
  • Find out what they think about alcohol and try to understand it from their perspective.
  • Relate the discussion to an upcoming event or topics on the news so they don’t feel uncomfortable. A ‘hook’ could be a recent TV storyline, a celebrity scandal involving alcohol, even stories about family or friends. Simply ask “What do you think?” to get the conversation going.

It’s important for parents to shape their children’s attitudes to alcohol and their future drinking behaviours. You can read more about this topic on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website.

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Protective factors