Teenagers are turning away from alcohol and other substances so much so that researchers studying the change in attitude have labelled this the “sober generation”.
A study conducted by Deakin University researchers and published today in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review has found parent attitudes are significantly influencing attitudes of school-age children to alcohol.
The researchers surveyed more than 41,000 teenagers in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland between 1999 and 2015.
It asked them questions like ‘how easy would it be for you if you wanted to get some alcohol or cigarettes?’ and ‘how wrong do your parents feel it would be for you drink beer?’.
In 2000, almost 70 per cent of surveyed teenagers had already drunk a full glass of alcohol.
By 2015, that figure had dropped to 45 per cent, meaning high school students abstaining from alcohol had become the majority.
Researchers found that not only were parents better educated about the harmful effects of alcohol, but they were also limiting supply.
“It ends up that parents’ attitudes are a big thing that young people are reporting has been a major change,” the author of the study, John Toumbourou, said.
He said the majority of teenagers were reporting that their parents did not think young people still in school should be drinking at all.
Professor Toumbourou said a lot of the change had to do with the type of messages directed at parents from around 2004 and onwards.
“Lots of media [have been] looking at the harmful effects of alcohol on the brain and advising parents increasingly not to provide it,” he said.
Ella Whinfield, 14, from Canberra, said she has never drunk alcohol and she does not plan on starting any time soon.
“Maybe when I am older, but to be honest I think looks disgusting,” she said.
“I see drunk people on the streets, I know it can ruin your liver and really mess you up.
“I know some older kids do it… but my friends don’t think it’s cool.”
‘We’re looking at a much more sober generation’
In addition to changing parental attitudes, the study also found that alcohol was harder to access.
“We asked young people about how easy it is to obtain alcohol within their community, and they’re really telling us that its become harder to obtain it,” Professor Toumbourou said.
“So we think there’s a couple of things going on there.
“One is that with the change in parents’ attitudes, adults are less likely to provide alcohol at a party, so that it means that setting that might have been occurring in 1999 has stopped.
“Also we think there is a tightening up such that the adults who are serving alcohol in bottle shops are less likely to hand it over when a young person asks for it.”
It was not only alcohol that teens were turning up their noses to.
“There’s evidence that as the alcohol is coming down, there hasn’t been a rise in other drugs,” Professor Toumbourou said.
“Tobacco has come down even more steeply, and cannabis use was also reducing.
“So really what we’re looking at here is a much more sober generation.”
However, Professor Toumbourou said it was not all about access.
Teenagers were becoming generally more health conscious, which was leading to changes in peer group influences — drinking was no longer as cool as it once was.
“One thing leads to another, as more and more young people and their parents are taking on the message that alcohol is something risky, then the peer culture is influenced,” he said.
“So you look at the conversations young people will have with one and other, it’s more likely the issue of the risks will be brought up.”
Professor Toumbourou said another change they were seeing was a social economic gradient for youth drinking, which was not present when they first started surveying young people in 1999.
“And now that the public health messages are being taken onboard by the majority, what we are finding is that those in the more disadvantaged groups are the one slowest to take on the message,” he said.