What helps prevent underage drinking?
Having resilience and self-esteem
Drinking alcohol can be seen by young people as a solution to problems. It can give them confidence or simply make them forget about what was worrying them. Parents have an important role in helping to build resilience and confidence in their children. The greater a young person’s self-esteem, the greater their ability to bounce back from difficult situations and the less likely they are to drink.
How do we build resilience and self-esteem?
By always loving the person even when we’re not happy about their behaviour. By letting them fail and helping them learn they can overcome difficulties. By praising them when they do try hard and encouraging them to do their best, whatever. By having rules and routines, a ‘can do’ attitude and by encouraging strong connections with family and friends and by listening to and respecting them.
When children see themselves as capable of solving problems they develop resilience and good self-esteem.
Look at your own approach to alcohol
The truth is children do not do as we say, they do as we do. If you want to prevent your children drinking underage the first thing you can do is look at your own drinking and possibly make changes.
If you regularly drink more than the UK Chief Medical Officers' low risk drinking guidelines (14 units a week for men and women) it isn’t good for your health and it could set a bad example. It’s not just the amount, either. If you reach for alcohol to calm you down when upset; to relieve stress; to celebrate success, then they may get the message that alcohol is the answer to everything. Hearing things like “What a day I need a drink!” or “Let’s get the beers in, it’s time for the footie” confirms in their minds that drinking is just what you do, regardless of occasion.
Take our alcohol self-assessment test
Agree rules and boundaries around alcohol
When it comes to teenagers you may feel there’s little point in having rules and boundaries, they’ll only break them – it’s what teenagers do!
But in fact we know that while kids push against rules they feel safer having them, and they do pay attention. If you’ve talked them through your expectations and agreed boundaries with them, they ‘buy in’ and feel the rule is theirs to keep.
Rules can be very useful for them to quote at friends – “No thanks, I would join in, but my parents will make life hell for me if I do so I’ll give it a miss.”
Help them to see they can say ‘no’ to alcohol
To say no young people need to recognise that it doesn't mean they’re rejecting a friend or being dull or rude. They’re looking after themselves. You could show your child how to avoid being pressured to do something by being assertive.
The best way to learn is to talk it through with you, to practise how to turn down things they should be allowed to refuse. It will help them if you sometimes demonstrate this behaviour in social situations, for example by refusing an alcoholic drink when offered and saying “no thanks, I’ll have a soft drink instead.”
Prevent alcohol being the answer to boredom
Drinking with friends often happens because kids are bored and have little else to do. If they’re busy with exciting or interesting activities such as reading, playing games, getting in touch with friends or taking part in sport then they won't have time to be bored.
Set yourself the task of finding out what’s available and what they might like to get involved in.
Knowing and welcoming their friends
If children think their parents don’t like their friends then they are not likely to spend time with them at their home. But that could then lead to not knowing where they are, who they are with or what time they will be home.
Of course they want privacy and independence. If you offer them the chance to spend time with their friends on their own at home, you may be surprised how eagerly they take it up. Welcome their friends, but leave them alone, you can always drop by their room to see if they’re OK.