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Raising a teenager in South Africa is no walk in the park. As a parent, many worries are keeping you up at night: are your kids safe, do they have sensible friends, are they responsible when you aren’t around? You have to put their well-being first, but you can’t “baby” your child forever. At some point, they’re going to drink alcohol, and you might wonder whether it’s better to let them drink under your roof instead of behind your back.

A big misconception about demystifying alcohol for teenagers is that allowing them to drink at home will make them less likely to experiment without your knowledge. However, according to Sandra Pretorius, director of Sanca Horizon Alcohol and Drug Centre: “Having alcohol at home isn’t going to prevent children from drinking with their peers where no supervision is available. And, of course, rewarding children with booze for excelling at school – something that 42% of parents in the UK sample group admitted to doing– is another no-no”.

You also need to keep the law in mind here. As Mona-Lisa Snyman, a legal professional at LAW FOR ALL points out: “We have to keep our kids’ best interest at heart. Not only is underage drinking in South Africa illegal, but The National Liquor Act (2003) says that no one may supply liquor to minors.” There is one exception: parents may occasionally allow their child to drink a small amount of alcohol, but it must be done under their supervision.

According to Snyman each province also has its regulations, and in most places in the country, kids are only allowed to drink a small amount of alcohol for religious purposes. “You sometimes hear stories about kids that were drinking at a Sweet 16, this is a big no-no!” warns Snyman.

It’s also important to remember that no one may sell alcohol to a minor, and a seller must make a reasonable effort to determine if the person buying booze is over 18. Children are also not allowed to lie about their age or try to persuade someone else to buy alcohol for them.

“Everyone needs a break from child-related challenges to stay sane.”

The law is strict when it comes to alcohol, and anyone who doesn’t comply with these rules and regulations can be fined up to R1 000 000 or face up to 5 years behind bars.

I know my child is experimenting with alcohol, but just how worried should I be? How bad is underage drinking in South Africa?

According to Aware.org, 50% of teenagers in South Africa drink alcohol. One of the organisation’s studies also showed that someone who starts drinking under the age of 18, which is illegal, is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who starts consuming booze after the age of 20.


What are the reasons for teenagers drinking alcohol?

Because you are dealing with your day-to-day life and duties as a parent, you might lose sight of the fact that your son or daughter is grappling with many personal issues and pressures, especially if your communication isn’t the best. Here are some of the most prominent reasons:

  1. The “rebellious teenager” isn’t just a stereotype. Teens often see the rules you (or teachers) set as attempts to control them a little too much, so they turn to alcohol as a form of rebellion.
  2. There’s the “cool factor”. Most teenagers experience some form of peer pressure, and they would rather fit in with the “in crowd” than be ostracised or bullied.
  3. A sense of hopelessness. In a guide created by the Government and South African Breweries, it states that “with only half of our youths living in two-parent households, the prospect of 25% to 35% unemployment and only a small percentage of school leavers finding jobs, South African teenagers face a very uncertain future”. And it’s this uncertainty that might drive them to hit the bottle and drown their sorrows.
  4. Depression and anxiety. Uncertainty, socio-economic circumstances and body issues also lead to mental health issues among the youth. For teens, consuming alcohol is a form of escapism from their seemingly unbearable reality.


What are the effects of alcohol on teenagers?

Continuous abuse of alcohol can have serious consequences for minors… we’re talking about more than just a hangover.

The effects of abusing alcohol include:

  • A significantly reduced ability to concentrate and commit things to memory. Of course, this can have a devastating impact on their studies.
  • Getting involved with crime or becoming violent. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and the ability to make sound judgements, so teens are more likely to participate in dangerous and criminal situations, like car accidents and theft.
  • Aggravating thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Despite trying to use alcohol to escape their depressive episodes, it can exacerbate impulsive behaviour.
  • Perpetrating sexual assault. Alcohol abuse can make someone significantly more aggressive and impulsive and make them feel entitled to another’s body.
  • Making a teenager want to experiment with other harmful, illegal substances.
  • Increasing chances of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy because alcohol abuse can lead to high-risk sexual behaviour.
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Are there any signs of alcoholism you can look out for?

While teenagers certainly act erratically and become moody from time to time (remember, they have a lot to figure out), there are some red flags – especially if more than one happens often – that should prompt you to intervene:

As a parent, you should look out for:

  • Regular mood swings or angry outbursts
  • A drop in school attendance and test results
  • A dismissive and apathetic attitude
  • Leaving the house and staying out very late
  • Switching friendship groups often or hanging out with much older people.

Open a bottle of communication and support, instead.

It’s always best to foster a home environment in which your children feel like they can talk to you about things and not be judged or disproportionately punished. If they feel supported and loved, they will turn to you instead of a bottle of booze for help.

If you need additional help, you can reach out to the following:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous SA National Helpline: (0861 435 722)
  • Narconon South Africa: (011 622 3998)
  • Alateen General Service Number: (021 595 4508)
  • LifeLine: (0861 322 322)

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