We asked Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP, TV medic and member of Drinkaware's medical panel to take a look at the impact alcohol can have on your child's health and wellbeing and offer advice about what you can do to give your child the facts. 
Tackling the issue of alcohol with our kids and laying down some ground rules about drinking can be one of parenting’s biggest challenges. Do we expressly forbid our teenagers from touching alcohol until they are 18 or do we take the more relaxed, 'continental' approach' where they can try alcohol from an earlier age under our supervision? 
With so many opinions and theories out there it’s understandable that many parents feel baffled about what is the ‘right’ thing to do. As a member of Drinkaware’s Mumtank (an independent panel of parenting experts) as well as a mother of two teenage children and a GP, I hope I can provide other parents with practical advice and information to help them navigate this potential minefield. 

Getting the facts straight

Given the wildly differing views held on the issue, it makes sense for me to start off by debunking a few myths and setting out some facts:

  • The UK chief medical officers recommend an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option1.
  • Research shows that the earlier a child starts drinking, the higher their chances of developing alcohol abuse or dependence in their teenage years and adult life – find out the risks of drinking underage2.
  • In 2014, 38% of 11 to 15 year olds had tried alcohol at least once, the lowest proportion since the survey began3.
  • Almost 65,000 young people every year need treatment in hospital A&E departments because of alcohol4
  • UK teenagers are amongst those most likely in Europe to report frequently drinking heavily and being intoxicated5.

As a GP, I see the effects of underage drinking. It really worries me that 37% of parents of 10-17 year olds think that an acceptable age for a young person to have their first drink of alcohol is before the age of 16. That’s a drink, not just a sip. What’s more, 64% of parents agree it’s inevitable that most children will drink alcohol before 16 years old6. However the reality is that as parents, we’re the first people kids turn to for advice on alcohol. We have a crucial role to play in delaying the age at which our children have their first drink.

Find out more on the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMO) recommendations on alcohol and young people

Long term health harms...

As a parent, your most powerful tool is information – giving your child all the details they need to make an informed decision about alcohol. Drinkaware has underage drinking online resources packed with useful facts and tips for dealing with the issue. If you’re concerned about your child drinking, your GP is also a good source of information.

Most importantly, make sure you keep up an ongoing and open dialogue between you and your child from an early age, right through their teenage years and even after they turn 18. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a one-off conversation will do the trick.

Equally, don’t be afraid to set some ground rules. Make sure that you clearly explain why children can’t drink alcohol and why it’s different for adults. Teenagers can argue with us until they’re blue in the face but if you have the facts to hand and they know that you’re right, this is one debate you can win.

What are the long-term risks for young people?

Technical note on the Ipsos MORI Research

On behalf of Drinkaware, Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 498 parents aged 25+ who had children aged 10-17 across the UK and who are online. All respondents interviewed were from social grade ABC1. Interviews were conducted online with members of Ipsos MORI’s online panel between 7-29 February 2012. Data were weighted by age, gender, region, and social grade to the known population profile of this audience. 

 

References

(1) Donaldson, Sir L.,2009, Guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people, Department of Health, p. 52 [online]. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_110258  

(2) Donaldson, Sir L.,2009, Guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people, Department of Health, p. 52 [online]. Available at:  http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_110256.pdf

(3) Health and Social Care Information Centre. Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people, 2014. Available at: www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17879

(4) Department of Children, Schools and Families (now Department of Education), Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Young People – A Systemic Review of Published Review, 2009. Available at: http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/DCSF-RR067.pdf

(5) European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (EPSAD), 2011, The 2011 ESPAD Report, [Online], Available at: http://www.can.se/contentassets/8d8cb78bbd28493b9030c65c598e3301/the_2011_espad_report_full.pdf

(6) Ipsos MORI, 2012, Drinkaware KPI Insight Research – Young People Aged 10-17 and their Parents, [Online], Available at: http://c3358553.r53.cf0.rackcdn.com/Drinkaware%20Parent%20kids%202011%20FINAL%20REPORT.PDF