Alcohol sneaking parents under fire

EXCLUSIVE Cathy O'Leary Medical Editor
Booze run: Alcohol taken from schoolies by police. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

WA health experts are alarmed by research suggesting parents actively help school leavers to smuggle alcohol, even resorting to hiding it in baby seats.

Researchers say the study of 18 to 21-year-olds, based on their experiences at leavers' parties, shows widespread "parental complicity", with many giving their teenagers money for alcohol as well as buying it for them.

Parents also actively help underage drinkers hide alcohol from police and other authorities, encouraging their children to replace water from freezer blocks in eskies with vodka and other spirits.

The research, released yesterday at the Public Health Association of Australia's conference in Perth, found teenagers regarded drinking at leavers' events as symbolic of being a "grown-up".

They felt parents who helped them with alcohol were "cool".

Curtin University researcher Simone Pettigrew said leavers were torn between wanting to enjoy themselves and appear responsible, with some happy to trash houses and break things and then go to the local hardware store to fix the damage.

"The interesting thing was they wanted the relaxation and the unwinding but we were quite struck by the symbolic meaning of leavers, and that they really wanted to say 'I'm an adult' and, of course, in the Australian context saying you're an adult means drinking alcohol," she said.

Many of those in the study also reported hiring private houses in places such as Dunsborough rather than accommodation in complexes or in camping areas, to give them latitude to drink.

Professor Pettigrew said this year's leavers' celebrations would be more challenging because for the first time in WA about half of leavers would be aged 18 and legally able to buy alcohol.

McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth director Mike Daube said the study had important implications for parents and policymakers.