Dr Sarah Jarvis – GP, expert in child health issues and a medical adviser to Drinkaware
“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.”