This weekend teenagers may be preparing to celebrate their GCSE results; if you’re a parent you may find this raises questions about alcohol you find difficult to answer.

Should you let your child celebrate their exams with alcohol? What does the law say about underage drinking? We’re urging parents to have the ‘alcohol chat’ but how can you answer those tough questions?

Your influence as a parent

You may think your child hardly listens to a word you say, but our findings show that parents have more influence than you think. You can play a vital role in shaping their attitudes to alcohol.

For example, our Drinkaware Monitor 2014: Young People Report found that the more permissive parents are towards alcohol, the more likely their children will be underage drinkers.

We also found that children whose parents think 13 is an acceptable age to drink are more than twice as likely to drink than those whose parents think they should wait until their 16 or 17.*

Alcohol to celebrate exams

Previously we’ve found that nearly one in four parents (23%) have planned on giving their children alcohol to celebrate the end of their exams. On average a child aged 14-17 can expect to get nine units of alcohol to take to a post-exam party**.

That’s the equivalent of four cans of beer, an entire bottle of wine or a third of a bottle of vodka.

9-units-alcohol

That’s up to three times more than the recommended alcohol unit guidelines for an adult (3-4 units a day for men and women 2-3 units a day).

What does the law say?

There are a number of laws around alcohol and under 18s so as a parent it’s best to have an understanding of them:

Can I buy alcohol for my child?

It is against the law for an adult to buy alcohol on behalf of someone who is under 18 (for example for them to take to a party).
It is also illegal for someone under 18 to drink in a licensed premises (in a pub or restaurant), unless they’re drinking wine or beer with an adult during a table meal.

Can they drink alcohol at home?

It is not illegal for a child aged five to 16 to drink alcohol at home or on other private premises.
So the law does allow for children, in certain circumstances to drink alcohol before they’re 18. However, before you make any decisions it helps to know what the official guidance is.

Official Guidance

The Chief Medical Officer recommends an alcohol-free childhood is best and that you shouldn’t drink at all before 15. This is because there are several risks associated with underage drinking which can affect their health and wellbeing.

Alcohol can make children vulnerable to dangerous situations. If you give your child alcohol as a reward you may be placing them at risk.

Help answering tough questions

It can be difficult answering your child’s questions about alcohol, to help you we’ve asked Family Lives parenting expert Suzie Hayman for some suggestions.

My mates drink underage and they’re fine, why can’t I?

You could say:

“You can’t drink because you’re my responsibility and I care about you. And they may seem fine but alcohol doesn’t necessarily harm you at once.

If you’ve tried a few and stop now your body will repair any damage it might have done. But go on and alcohol affects your weight, your skin, your sleep, your brain, your liver, your ability to think straight and make good decisions.”

Can I take alcohol to a party?

You could say:

No, because I don’t want you drinking alcohol at your age, even if your friends drink. If you break our rules you can’t go. Take a soft drink. I know you might find it hard just to say no, so tell them you’ve got a special event tomorrow and can’t drink tonight.

It’s important to remember not all young people will want to drink alcohol, as a parent it’s important to support children to celebrate without it. You could reward them for exam results with a simple treat like a shopping or cinema trip.

Making a decision

By the letter of the law under 18's can legally drink alcohol underage, however there are risks associated with underage drinking and it goes against official guidance.

Whether you should allow your child to celebrate their exams with alcohol is your decision to make.

We would always encourage you to talk to your child about alcohol, evidence shows meaningful conversations can help them develop a sensible attitude to drink.

You can visit our underage drinking website for expert information to help you talk to your child.