Young people who don’t drink

Almost no parents think it is okay for their children to drink alcohol. But at the same time, many people say that it’s part of being young, that it’s a natural part of their development. It isn’t. And nowadays, a lot of young people simply don’t drink.  

A CHANGING YOUTH CULTURE?

There’s been a steady reduction in youth drinking over the past two decades, both in Sweden and in many other countries. Young people who don’t drink do better in many areas in life than young people who do. They also report feeling better, getting better grades, and suffering fewer physical and mental problems.

There is no single reason why young people today are drinking less than they did 20 years ago. Studies point to, amongst other things, changes in family relationships, new social norms, increased online socialising, strong health ideals, and the fact that saying no to alcohol has become more accepted.

Many young people also say that they feel a pressure to be successful and in control  – feelings that might contribute to their increased avoidance of alcohol.  

Teens by their school.
Photo: Pablo Frisk

I’m a little scared of getting drunk. You don’t want to embarrass yourself, after all. 

Mikaela, aged 16, Gothenburg

SOBER ISN’T BORING

Some people are prejudiced: they regard people who don’t drink alcohol as wimps or boring. Talk to your child and tell them that this isn’t true: being able to say no is a sign of strength, and it’s common for people not to drink alcohol.

Actually, only a minority of young people think it’s OK when their friends get drunk. A 2019 study investigated Swedish ninth graders’ attitudes to the things their friends do. Fewer than half (40 per cent of girls and 45 per cent of boys) said that it was OK for a friend to get drunk.  

"Not drinking is strong. It shows you have self-respect".

Jasmine, aged 16, Umeå

DOUBLE STANDARDS

Many adults remember their own teenage years as a time when they drank to socialise and to let go. Plus society’s norms often say that you should drink, just not to excess. Most of us tell our teenagers not to drink, despite possibly expecting them to do what we did.

Think about how you talk about alcohol with your child. If you ask your teenager not to drink but, at the same time, give them the impression that alcohol is part of “enjoying yourself”, you might be guilty of sending mixed and confusing messages.

“Parents are so important in preventative work. Talking about alcohol and the way you want things to be in your family is appreciated by the majority of teenagers because it shows that you care and makes your child feel more secure in different situations.” 

Ulrika Ankargren, National Coordinator for the County Councils alcohol prevention work

HELP THEM SAY NO

Discuss the issues with your child and give them the arguments they need to say no to alcohol. Talk about the risks associated with drinking when young and remind them that the ability to say no is a sign of strength. It may also be a good idea to share what you thought about alcohol when you were young. 

More to read about the same topic

Useful contacts and more info

It can sometimes be good to talk to someone who knows a bit more about teenagers and alcohol, or about anything else, for that matter.

If you want to do more

There’s a lot you can do to support and be there for teenagers. Maybe you can take part in night-time patrols, or make it easier for them to say “no”, or help promote a smarter approach to alcohol in some other way.

Other important topics to read about

When parents are not around

Back to The Teenage Phrasebook home page