‘Our 15-year-old daughter has started to drink and it’s causing rows’

We’re not allowing her to go to places where drinking is involved but don’t want the summer ruined for all of us by constant arguments

‘How come it is accepted by the parents that 16-year-olds will be drinking in their houses?’ Photograph: iStock

Question: Facing a summer with our 15-year-old post-Junior Cert daughter, who is looking for more freedom than we are comfortable with, is daunting.

We've recently discovered she has started to drink with friends and since knowing we are not allowing her to go to places where this is happening.

We are saying she can do other things with friends and have them over as long as we have a contact with their parents.

She is not happy with this at all. She still wants to go out to the parties where there is drinking taking place. For example, she wants to go to a friend's 16th birthday and she is being honest and open that there will be drink there and it could become a session. She says she will not drink and that she will "mind her friends". Apparently, this is what some of the teenagers do when they are not drinking. But we are still not sure about letting her go. She is very angry and feels her summer will be ruined and that we are pushing her to lie to us and not tell when there is drinking.


She is actually a really grounded, sensible girl with ambitions, but this new aspect to her life is difficult to deal with. We appreciate that she is being relatively honest.

I don't want hers or our summer to be ruined, and I know this is just a dramatic response in the heat of an argument, but I also don't want it to be a series of arguments throughout the summer.

Lots of parents have been here before and I suppose we have to do our best and keep our daughter safe.

Answer: Teenagers are under a great deal of peer pressure to engage in underage drinking. Drinking becomes associated with socialising in the culture of many teen peer groups. Coming-of-age rituals such as 16th birthdays are almost seen as an initiation ritual into drinking.

In reading your question and indeed the many other questions I receive about teenage drinking, I am amazed at how parents inadvertently facilitate this. I think you are dead right to be against your daughter drinking illegally under the age of 18, yet how come the parents of the other teenagers hosting the parties are not? How come it is accepted by the parents that 16-year-olds will be drinking in their houses? There is a prevailing belief that is better to allow teens to drink in supervised settings such as in the home in order to avoid the situation where they are binge drinking in unsafe settings such as the park.

The problem is that there is not a shred of evidence for this belief. In fact, teenagers who drink underage supervised by parents or in ‘safe settings’ are more likely to binge drink unsafely than the teenagers who are encouraged to keep the legal age limit of 18. In addition, the fact that drinking becomes normalised and accepted at house parties makes it more likely for more teenagers to start to drink in the first place. The earlier teens start to drink, the greater the risk of problems in later life.

While it might be hard to do, one way to ensure your daughter is safe is to start a conversation with the other parents to persuade them to ensure all parties are alcohol-free zones as much as possible until the teenagers are 18.

Helping your daughter

It is good that you and your daughter are talking about the issues. Even though it feels like a conflict, it is the process of negotiation and talking through the issues that will increase her safety. In these discussions, do remember to praise her honesty and to say that you appreciate the fact that she is upfront with you about what is going on. State from the outset that you are only trying to act in her best interest and that you don’t think it is a good idea for her to start drinking at an early age because of all the risks and dangers.

Dealing with peer pressure

It is important to acknowledge with your daughter that you understand the peer pressure on teenagers to start drinking. However, encourage her to make her own decisions. A good way to do this is to ask her questions such as “do you think you should drink just to fit in or because you are pressured to do so?” or “what do you really want for yourself?” or “what would it say about you if you were able to stand up to peer pressure and make your own decisions?” I try to remind young people in your daughter’s situation that by making a stand and not drinking, they become a positive role model for the many other teenagers who are unsure about drinking. Some surveys suggest that for every teenager who wants to drink, there are two who don’t but who feel pressurised to do so.

Explore with your daughter how she can be safe

It is your decision about whether you let your daughter go to certain parties or not, but it is important to negotiate how she can stay safe if she does go. For example, you might start a conversation, “I appreciate that you agree that you won’t drink at the party, but what will you do if someone offers you a drink? How will you say no?” I like the plan she has already of being a minder at the party but it is worth teasing that out a bit more. Will that work every time? What can she say exactly? Helping teenagers think through how they will respond to peer pressure (even rehearsing the statements they might say) does increase their level of safety.

However, supervision and monitoring is also important, such as arranging drink-free parties, taking them to and from events and insisting they come home at certain times. The goal is to try and find a win-win whereby you find a way that she can go to the party while at the same time you are convinced that she will be safe.

– John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He is author of several parenting books including Parenting Teenagers. See solutiontalk.ie