How to answer questions about underage drinking
Your children will ask questions about alcohol from a very early age. Many parents are unsure how to respond but it’s important not to avoid the subject. Evidence shows meaningful conversations about alcohol between parents and their children can help the child develop a sensible relationship with drink(1)(2). If you make it clear that their questions are welcome and you try to answer them, they’ll keep coming back. You don’t have to cover everything at once; you’re more likely to have a greater impact on your child’s decisions about drinking if you have a number of chats. Think of this as part of an ongoing conversation.
The advice in this section will help prepare you for the questions that your child may ask about alcohol so you can frame the conversation. They are of course only suggestions, use what you feel comfortable with and adapt the advice to your own parenting style.
Tough questions answered
Children tend to ask the same questions about drinking at five or 15 and there are two vital things you need to keep in mind: One, that if you don’t answer, they’ll go elsewhere with their questions about alcohol and what they learn may not be helpful at all. Two, it’s perfectly OK to say “I don’t know” or “I haven’t thought about that yet” or “That makes me feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.”
You don’t have to be the one with all the answers when it comes to talking to your child about underage drinking. All you have to do is to be the one they come to with most of the questions.
Wine tastes a bit like sour grape juice, cider like sour apple juice and beer can be bitter. Since taste buds change as you get older you might find alcohol doesn't taste very nice.
Because I like the taste, and because alcohol can relax you and make you feel good. But there are other ways of feeling good and relaxing – shall we talk about some of them?
It can make you feel dizzy and silly. If you have too much you can be very silly – dangerously so. Sometimes you don’t care what you say or do. And afterwards you can feel sick and have a headache – a hangover.
No, because I don't want you drinking alcohol at your age, even if your friends drink. If you break our rules you can’t go. Take a soft drink. I know you might find it hard just to say no, so tell them you’ve got a special event tomorrow and can’t drink tonight.
It is not illegal for a parent or guardian to give their child alcohol at home if they are aged over five years old. However, if you don’t want to, you could say: No, not even a sip. You may feel grown up but your body is still developing, and alcohol can harm you at your age.
You can find out more about the law on the Official Guidance page
What other kids get up to is not my business – you are. Alcohol, even a small amount, would harm you now and I love you far too much to risk that.
You can’t drink because you’re my responsibility and I care about you. And they may seem fine but alcohol doesn’t necessarily harm you at once.
If you’ve tried a few and stop now your body will repair any damage it might have done. But go on and alcohol affects your weight, your skin, your sleep, your brain, your liver, your ability to think straight and make good decisions. Don’t join them – get them to join you!
Yes, it can be fun when your body is fully grown, and even then it can lead to problems. Hangovers or having to remember the silly things you did while drunk aren’t fun. But I love it when you enjoy yourself! Name something I can do to help you enjoy yourself! But drinking isn’t one of them – it’s bad for you and I say no.
You’re right, you’re not a child. You’re a teenager, an adolescent – an apprentice adult. And that means that while you’re a lot more mature than a child, your body is still developing. Show me how mature you are by researching some of the drawbacks of drinking at your age and then let’s talk some more about this.
Probably before I should have. And I wish I hadn’t. And if my parents had known then what I know now I’m sure they would have tried as hard as I’m trying to keep you safe.
Just because I did it doesn’t mean you should copy me or that I don’t know better now!
Maybe.The Chief Medical Officer for England advises that you shouldn’t drink at all before you’re 15. After that you might be able to have alcohol on special occasions – never more than once a week. And never more than the recommended daily guidelines – you go and find out what they are! But I think 15 is a limit, not a goal.
The longer you leave it, the healthier you will be.
Don’t forget it’s against the law for you to buy alcohol or for anyone to sell it to you or buy it for you until you are 18.
Do I? Oh dear – then I’ll have to change that because that isn’t healthy. But just because I drink doesn’t mean you can.
My body has finished developing, yours hasn’t and that’s why alcohol is bad for you.
You’re right – I’m sorry. We should talk about alcohol.
I’m avoiding it because I’m worried and embarrassed you might catch me out or I won’t have the answers.
So let’s sit down and have a proper talk. We can both find out the facts we need, the important thing is to listen to each other.
Yes. If you have too much it can make you feel sick and have a headache afterwards- a hangover. It can also harm your liver, brain, your skin. The list goes on…
Yes, particularly at your age as your body is still developing. Drinking alcohol can make you less aware of danger, so you’re more likely to hurt yourself. It has been linked to problems with your liver and even your performance at school.
Yes it can. Alcohol doesn’t just affect you physically; it can also affect your mood and emotions. Sometimes people feel sad because they do things when they have been drinking that they wouldn’t normally do. Alcohol has also been linked to more serious mental health issues like depression.
No. I don’t want you drinking alcohol. You may feel grown up, but your body is still developing and alcohol can harm you at your age.
Children and their parents and carers are advised that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. However, if children drink alcohol underage, it should not be until at least the age of 15 years.
So how should you talk to them?
Got a question of your own?
Do you have a question about underage drinking or how to have the alcohol chat with your child? Drinkaware hosted two webinars to answer those questions:
1. With Consultant Paediatrician Dr Tim Ubhi. Listen to it here:
Do you still have unanswered questions about underage drinking? Tweet us @Drinkaware.
2. With Parenting Expert Suzie Hayman of Family Lives website. Listen here:
Do you still have unanswered questions about underage drinking? Tweet us @Drinkaware.
Children may ask about alcohol when they see it at special occasions, such as family parties. They may ask what alcohol is or even ask to try a sip. For help answering these questions have a look at the ‘tough questions answered’ section above.
Young people see examples of people drinking alcohol everywhere such as on TV, in magazines and in social media. This teaches children that it is normal behaviour in our society and this could make them want to drink. Speak to them about what messages they are seeing and make sure they understand the risks of drinking underage.
Caught off guard
Ever been caught off guard by your child asking questions about alcohol? For help answering these difficult questions take a look at the ‘tough questions answered’ section above.
(1) Highet 2005. Alcohol and cannabis: Young people talking about how parents respond to their use of these two drugs. Drugs: Education, Prevention, and Policy, 2005, Vol. 12, No. 2 : Pages 113-124 Downloaded from:http://informahealthcare.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09687630412331315125
(2)Siobhan M. Ryan, Anthony F. Jorm and Dan I. Lubman. Parenting Factors Associated with Reduced Adolescent Alcohol Use: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2010 44: 774.http://anp.sagepub.com/content/44/9/774.short
(3) Williams, B., et al. (2010). Children, Young People and Alcohol, Department for children, schools and families, p.28http://alcoholeducationtrust.org/resources/facts/youthdrinkingUKsurvey2010DCSF.pdf
(4) Van der Vorst et al. (2006). The impact of alcohol-specific rules, parental norms about early drinking and parental alcohol use on adolescents' drinking behaviour. Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 47(12) p.1299-306.http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2006.01680.x/abstract