Parents can feel helpless about their children and alcohol. You might feel there is little you can do to prevent them from experimenting with alcohol underage or getting pulled into drinking unwisely.
But countless studies have shown that parents have significant influence over the attitude and relationship their child develops with alcohol. So there is plenty you can do.
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 weekly alcohol unit 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.
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.
CNI Network has an Alcohol and Safety Education pack for organisations like schools and small charities or organisations.
The pack includes ice breakers, quizzes, case studies and lesson plans.
Webinar with a Consultant Paediatrician
Listen to Dr Tim Ubhi answer questions about the risks of underage drinking here.
Listen to Parenting Expert Suzie Hayman, of Family Lives website here.
General advice on alcohol
- Drinkaware offers a range of information, tips and advice about alcohol including downloadable resources such as factsheets and leaflets, as well as practical tools including a mobile app to track and calculate the units and calories in your drinks.
For young people
- thesite.org and talktofrank.com have sections with advice and information about alcohol and young people.
- If you think your child is drinking too much, contact your GP, phone Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 or visit www.addaction.org.uk to find local Addaction services.
- Family Lives is a national charity providing help and support in all aspects of family life. Visit www.familylives.org.uk or call Family Lives 24/7 Parentline advice line on 0808 800 2222.
- To talk to other parents about how they deal with talking to their children about alcohol you can visit the forum pages at www.mumsnet.com or www.dad.info
- Young Minds provides information and advice on young people and mental health. Visit www.youngminds.org.uk or call 020 7089 5050.