Does my drinking affect my child?
We ask two experts to talk about the major part parents play in making sure their children develop a healthy relationship with alcohol.
“Drinking alcohol during childhood can have a serious effect on a child’s development, causing a range of health and social problems. Drinkaware’s new research suggests a strong link between the frequency of young people’s underage drinking and their exposure to drinking at home. So it’s clear that parents play a crucial role in making sure their children develop a healthy relationship with alcohol.”
The UK chief medical officers (CMO) recommend that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. The law on alcohol and young people is different across the United Kingdom.
“Evidence shows that young people who start drinking at an early age drink more, and more frequently, than those who delay their first alcoholic drink, so it is important that parents try to delay their child’s first drink as much as they can.”
Drinkaware research1 shows that only one in 10 (10%) of middle-earning (ABC1) parents are aware of the CMO guidelines on delaying drinking to the age of 15, but when presented with this guidance nearly 7 in 10 parents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (69%) agreed with the recommendations.
“Experts advise that parents shouldn’t try to de-mystify alcohol by allowing children to try it, especially around special occasions like Christmas. Instead, they can talk openly and honestly about alcohol with their children, highlighting the effect excessive drinking can have on your health.
“With tens of thousands of young people needing treatment every year in A&E departments because of alcohol, getting parents talking to their children in this way is the first step towards bringing these numbers down.
“In my experience, what conveys the stark realities of alcohol misuse to parents is to talk frankly about the effects that drinking from a young age has on their child’s health.
“But what will strike a chord with young people is hearing about the short-term effects and dangers of drinking. Alcohol can be poisonous to anyone who drinks too much in a short space of time but children are especially vulnerable because of their smaller size. The serious health effects of alcohol on children can be seen when their blood alcohol levels get too high. This can cause their brain to stop controlling the body’s vital functions and, in the worst case scenario, they could stop breathing, fall into a coma or choke on their own vomit.
“Knowing about the impact on their concentration and ability to learn can also strike a chord with young people. Drinking to excess can also affect their future prospects through social media. More than half of young people have untagged themselves in online pictures when they were drunk and in embarrassing positions – these pictures are out there forever for their potential future employers to see.
“By making your child aware of the impact of drinking on their body, you can help to give them the confidence to make more informed and healthy choices about alcohol as they get older.”
“Some parents might feel hypocritical laying down rules about alcohol when they worry they drink a little too often or much themselves. But it’s important for parents to make the difference between adults drinking and children doing so. It’s useful to explain that alcohol is only for adults because their bodies have finished growing, and even adults have rules about how much they can drink.”
“Parents should try to be aware of how much they are drinking in front of their children, especially on holiday or at special occasions such as Christmas, as children do notice changes in their parents drinking habits.
“If you do drink too much on an occasion and end up nursing a hangover, don’t try and hide the symptoms, instead talk openly to your child about how you’re feeling, letting them know the effects would be worse for them as they’re smaller and developing. This way they know too much alcohol can have a negative consequence and you avoid making alcohol a taboo subject.
“But, equally, parents should hide their own alcohol consumption from their kids. Setting a good example and demonstrating a moderate approach to drinking, while communicating the harmful effects of alcohol on children, is a good approach to alcohol education. If a parent doesn’t drink themselves, they can still provide alcohol education using other people’s drinking habits as a stimulus – either out of the home or on TV.”
To track the units of alcohol and calories your drinking, try using the Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app for free.
 Research into drinking attitudes & behaviour among young people aged 10-17 and their parents'. Research report conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Drinkaware, May 2013. Available at: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/media/157296/drinkaware_attitudes_and_behaviours_parents_and_young_people__2012.pdf