INTRODUCTION: The fundamental role of alcohol in the lives of young Australians is mirrored in the level of drinking by adolescents. In 2001, more than one in four Australian adolescents aged 14-19 years consumed alcohol weekly. Teenagers in rural areas are more likely to consume alcohol than their metropolitan counterparts. Parents are key 'gatekeepers' of adolescent behaviour and as such are a salient group to consider in relation to adolescent alcohol use. The aim of this study was to explore parents' attitudes, beliefs, concerns and receptiveness to harm minimisation strategies with respect to teenage use of alcohol. METHODS: A convenience sample of parents with adolescent children attended a series of focus groups across the north and north-western area of the State of Victoria, Australia. Schools were approached to advertise the project and invite parents to participate. Snowball sampling was used to enhance recruitment. RESULTS: Parents described patterns of alcohol use such as 'drinking to get drunk' and the influence of both parents and peers on the consumption of alcohol by adolescents. Few parents were concerned about the long-term risks of alcohol use by teenagers; rather they were more concerned about the short-term harms, for example, road trauma and other accidents and risky behaviours such as binge drinking. Parents indicated that they perceived alcohol to be less harmful than other drugs and many indicated that alcohol was often not perceived to be a drug. A number of strategies were adopted by parents to negotiate teenagers' drinking and to minimise the risks associated with alcohol use. These included transporting teenagers to parties, providing teenagers with a mobile phone, setting clear guidelines about alcohol use and/or providing teenagers with a small amount of alcohol. These were seen by parents as strategies for reducing the risks associated with alcohol consumption. Many parents reported that they do not feel well informed about alcohol use and how and when to use harm reduction strategies. CONCLUSIONS: Rural parents are unsure how to respond to teenagers' alcohol use and drunkenness. While some parental strategies for harm reduction (such as supplying adolescents with a small amount of alcohol) may have good face validity in reducing alcohol consumption among adolescents, these strategies are not supported by previous research findings.