“Adults might need to change their idea of young people’s drinking habits”

The fact that young people consume alcohol is a known phenomenon, but the image that adults often have of young people’s drinking as something spontaneous and disorganised is not recognised by the youths themselves. In the article “We are not like those who /.../ sit in the woods and drink”: The making of drinking spaces by youth ”, researchers Birgitta Ander and Monika Wilinska at the School of Health and Welfare, Jönköping University, analysed interview material where youths share their own stories about how they plan their parties and alcohol consumption.

Monika Wilinska and Birgitta Ander.

The article has recently been published in a special issue of Qualitative Social Work that addresses the concept of place and space within social work.

“It is probably a little bit provocative for some that we analyse this particular space, in which young people drink alcohol, but we analyse a lot of other spaces within social work so we found it intriguing to analyse young people’s own spaces, what they mean, and what the young people choose to fill it with,” says Birgitta Ander.

The material they have based the article on, consists of interviews that Birgitta Ander conducted for her doctoral thesis, where she interviewed young people who had experience of binge drinking. For the new article, Monika Wilinska and Birgitta Ander have together looked at the material with their different perspectives and from a new angle.

“The perception adults have is often that young people get drunk, hang around and take no responsibility, and that the drunkenness takes place under disorganised forms. Therefore, it was very exciting to look at the material from the place and space perspective. What we discovered is that it is not at all as unorganised as adults want to believe. Where the drinking occurs and how the adolescents produce drinking spaces before the actual drinking can start is often very well planned,” says Monika Wilinska.

For the young people, control and planning are central concepts, and there is a lot that is weighed in before the party can take place.

“The young people often use words such as control and planning in the interviews. A lot has to do with a development process that these adolescents go through. The organiser and guests often think about when and how much they want to drink, they plan who should be invited and make sure there will not be any fights,” says Birgitta Ander.

Adults are not physically present during these parties; however, they were always on the periphery of the adolescents. The party was planned when the parents were not going to be home, but they also had neighbours in mind, it was very important not to disturb them.

“Adults may need to change their general perception of youth drunkenness, as they tend to generalise the situation and provide an image that young people cannot identify with. It is much more a grey area than black and white,” says Birgitta Ander.

The researchers’ hope is that the article and material can be used by both social work professionals and that parents can use the material as a way to understand the world of adolescents and keep this material in mind when discussing alcohol consumption with their teenagers.

“What was also evident was that it was embarrassing not to be able to control the intoxication, and that the young people saw it as embarrassing and a sign of immaturity. For example, vomiting was something you ‘did in the beginning’ but quickly learned how to cope with, age and experience thus became more of a symbolic value,” concludes Monika Wilinska.

The article “We are not like those who /.../ sit in the woods and drink”: The making of drinking spaces by youth ” is the only Swedish article in the special issue and the only one that addresses the issue of young people’s alcohol habits. Read the full article via this link External link, opens in new window..