Ways to prevent your child from drinking underage
Strategies to prevent your child drinking alcohol underage
The UK Chief Medical Officers advise that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option for children and young people.
Yet, as your child grows up, they will see and hear about alcohol in the world around them, whether amongst friends and family, on TV or social media, or in the place they live.
So, what can you do if you think your child might be tempted to drink underage?
If you’re concerned that curiosity or peer pressure might tempt them to drink, the best first step is to get the facts on the harm drinking underage can cause to health and the law for under-18s.
As a parent or guardian, you have significant influence over the attitude and relationship your child will develop with alcohol.1 So, there are things you can do to prevent them from being tempted to drink underage.
The greater a young person’s self-esteem, the greater their ability to bounce back from difficult situations and avoid wrongly thinking that alcohol could be a solution to their problems.
When children see themselves as capable of solving problems they develop resilience and self-esteem.
You can help build your child’s resilience and self-esteem by clearly showing your love, even when you’re not happy about their behaviour, and listening to and respecting them.
Sometimes that means letting them fail and helping them learn they can overcome difficulties. Other times it’s about encouraging them to do their best and praising their efforts.
Rules and routines, and strong connections with family and friends all help too.
It can be natural for a child not to ‘do as you say’, but instead to ‘do as you do’. If you want to prevent your child drinking underage it’s worth looking at your own drinking and possibly making changes.
Regularly drinking more than the UK Chief Medical Officers' low risk drinking guidelines (14 units a week for men and women) isn’t good for your own health and it can set an example that you don’t want your child to copy too.
It’s not just the amount, either. If you have certain triggers for drinking – whether to mark success, when you’re upset, or as something you regularly do at home – you might find you’re sending an unintended message about the role you think alcohol ‘should’ play in your life – and theirs.
When it comes to teenagers, even though a little disagreement and pushback can be natural, we know clear rules promote feelings of safety and can play a really important part in keeping them safe.4
Talking through your expectations and agreeing boundaries will help create ‘buy in’ and make them feel any rules are theirs to keep. They can also be useful for them to quote at friends: “No thanks, I would join in, but I know I’ll get in trouble if I do, so I’ll give it a miss.”
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. And they won’t be alone - there is evidence that shows a trend towards young people deciding not to drink alcohol.5
You could show your child how to avoid being pressured to do something by being assertive. One way of demonstrating this yourself could be to refuse an alcoholic drink when offered one in a social situation, and have a soft drink instead.
Some young people that drink say they do it because they’re bored and have little else to do.6 So, encouraging their interest in other activities they like - whether reading, playing games, getting in touch with friends or taking part in sport – will help make boredom much less likely.
Set yourself the task of finding out what’s available and what they might like to get involved in.
If your child thinks you don’t like their friends, they aren’t likely to want to spend time with them at your 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. But if you offer them the chance to spend time with their friends on their own at home, you might 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.
If you are worried about your child’s drinking, contact your GP surgery, phone Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 or find local We Are With You 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.
Young Minds provides information and advice on young people and mental health. Visit www.youngminds.org.uk or call 020 7089 5050.
 Velleman, R (2009) Influences on how children and young people learn about and behave towards alcohol: a review of the literature for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (part one). Joseph Rowntree Foundation
 Jones, S. C., & Gordon, C. S. (2017). A systematic review of children’s alcohol-related knowledge, attitudes and expectancies. Preventive Medicine, 105, 19–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2017.08.005
 Relate website. Setting boundaries for teenagers. (Accessed 28 April 2022) Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parenting/parenting-teenagers/behaviour/setting-boundaries-teenagers
Last Reviewed: 28th April 2022
Next Review due: 28th April 2025