The results of a study involving 41,000+ young people has shown that young Australians are smoking and drinking far less than they used to. A study done in 1999, the year that I finished high school, showed around 70% of surveyed teens had tried booze. By 2015, that had dropped to 45%. Teenage drinking is now something indulged in by the minority, according to this latest survey.
In 1999, I quite happily headed to the pub after final exams. We shared jugs of beer (already well aware of pub economics) and rested our ciggies in ashtrays while we shot game after game of pool with local truckies and booze hounds. It wasn’t new to us at all. We’d been drinking for a few years by then.
When I was a teenager
We were, from a young age, all over Sydney public transport. I’d hop on a bus to Rockdale, get the train to Redfern, change and go to Ashfield to meet my boyfriend, get another back to Newtown and wander to a certain restaurant that sold Sub Zeros to teenagers, no questions asked. It wasn’t uncommon to get together in a park with a few bottles of cheap wine (Passion Pop, anyone?) in the middle of the day, just for the hell of it. We’d get the train to Hurstville, then hop on a bus, then walk to our favourite park. A pack of excited teenagers ready to pop a cork and make questionable life choices. Risk-taking is an important part of adolescence, after all.
And before you wonder what sort of kids I was hanging out with, can I tell you, they were extremely normal. And have gone on to have great careers and functional lives. To my knowledge, none of us have substance abuse problems, either.
— Bianca. (@voguee_styles) January 25, 2014
I guess what I’m getting at is that, in the mid-1990s, things like drinking and smoking were still very much a part of teenage culture. And I loved being a young person in the 1990s. Great music, comfortable shoes and enough teenage angst to keep everyone entertained. Teenage drinking wasn’t widely discussed in schools then. We had the usual messages advising us not to and the Healthy Harold school incursions, but that was it. Lots of parents were relaxed, allowing older teens to drink moderately on occasion. We didn’t know then what we know now. Newer research shows that alcohol consumption can impact the developing brain right up into a person’s early 20s.
Why is teenage drinking less common now?
Is this newer information the reason that kids are choosing sobriety these days? It’s likely why parents, schools and law makers take it more seriously. But the kids? Looking at our teens, I’m not so sure.
School programs are much more informative, based on newer research and offering teenagers strategies for dealing with peer pressure and so on. But it’s more than just education; it’s a combination of things. Pubs and bottle shops are far more diligent in checking identification, for example, as the penalties for selling to minors have gone up significantly. No more turning a blind eye and no more accepting badly-doctored photocopied birth certificates, like they did when I was young!
Teenagers might have the most access to information of any generation before them, but is this helping them to stay sober? Are they actually googling what happens to your body and brain due to teenage drinking?
According to my lot, no. Technology is wonderful, but this isn’t what they use it for. Technology is entertainment. To that end, it can be hard to actually get them out of the house. They rarely get public transport alone and not because we have any rules against it. Our teenagers don’t want to catch a bus and two trains to go hang out with their friends when they can just sit and home, talking and laughing on social media in group chats. They don’t want to walk for half an hour to get to the shops or the movies, because they have Netflix at home. Why bother going out when you can “hang out” online?
The social factor
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that teenage drinking and smoking isn’t cool anymore. This generation of teenagers will be so much better off for it. Our culture is particularly obsessed with boozing it up and this generation might change that cycle. Young people are more aware of the dangers than I was at their age, for sure. It’s also far more difficult for them to access these products. But the way they socialise is also an enormous factor, in my experience. It’s amazing to me that we have a handful of teenagers in this house and they are almost always home. They don’t go out and sneak cheap wine in a park partly because, even if they could be bothered to leave the house, their friends likely would not.
Instead, they sneak on to their phones and iPads at times they aren’t supposed to. They are so busy peering at their screens that they miss their surroundings (a danger in itself). So, a different kind of moderation is needed. And we’re still working on achieving that balance!