When I told people I was attending an event run by Drinkaware to talk about alcohol, there were a few sniggers. Yes, I like the occasional drink … especially after a stressful day, not unlike a lot of adults, but I wouldn’t say I drink too much. I just can’t handle the hangovers these days.
I first got served in a pub aged twelve. Benefits of being tall and having big boobs I guess … but it’s nothing really to brag about. (Although I did. Lots of times.) Alcohol was in my life from an early age. I don’t ever remember seeing my Dad drink as I was growing up but I remember Mum having an occasional glass of wine or two after work. However, I was clubbing by the age of fourteen but burnt out by the time I was nineteen. I would often drink so much I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. I did things I cringe about now and got into situations that, thankfully, I managed to get myself out of, but now I’m a parent to a teenager, I can only hope that he does as I say, not as I did.
Drinkaware are an independent charity and put this event on to encourage parents to talk to their children about alcohol. They want to change the drinking culture and their campaign is all about advice for parents and their children, primarily in the hope that we can delay the age that children start drinking. (The average age a child starts drinking is thirteen and, talking from experience, that’s just too young.)
There is a lot of confusion over what the right approach is as far as children and alcohol is concerned. The ‘Continental’ approach of allowing children to drink at home from a young age has been proven not to work. Cirrhosis of the liver is twice as high in France as it is in the UK and binge drinking is just as prevalent in France as it is over here. (The Observer ran an interesting article on this which you can read HERE.)
Not all young people drink, or will drink, and between the ages of 8-10, the attitude towards alcohol is pretty negative. Obviously, the older they get, the more curious they become and as much as alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, there seems to be a serious epidemic of children drinking to such excess that not only are they more susceptible to being assaulted/raped/mugged, but there have been many heartbreaking cases of kids falling unconscious, choking on their vomit and dying.
This isn’t scaremongering. This is happening all across the country.
How do you get through to a young person who feels immortal? Who doesn’t care that drinking alcohol will kill off brain cells or give them liver damage? Would I have listened if my parents had ever had that chat with me?
The best thing we can do, like with discussions about sex and drugs, is ensure the lines of communication are open. Eileen Hayes, a parenting expert on the panel, suggested just being honest with your child and explain that alcohol is OK, but in moderation. She raised another very valid point. A lot of children drink because they’re bored, and also because they feel like they lack confidence and drinking gives them a sense of self esteem.
And herein lies a bigger issue.
Why do a lot of young people suffer from such low self esteem? Perhaps that’s a whole other post, but the point raised was important. We need to ensure that we do as much as we can as parents to build our children’s self esteem from an early age and hope that when the time comes and they’re faced with difficult decisions about alcohol, they make the right choice.
As parents, we have a huge amount of influence over our children, as much as it seems like they don’t listen to a thing we say, they do. (It’s just on a deep, unconscious level so it seems like they’re not listening!)
Kids are surrounded by imagery in films showing drinking to be cool, drinks are made deliberately sweeter to appeal to the younger market and supermarkets sometimes make alcohol pocket money cheap. It’s not easy for them to say no so we need to try and make it easier for them to say no.
One thing we chose to do was encourage our teen to get involved in rugby from a young age. He played it for five years, between the ages of 10-15, which meant that he couldn’t turn up to training or matches with a hangover. He didn’t find himself in situations where alcohol was offered back then but rugby would have given him a ‘cool excuse’ to say no. I can’t recommend a weekend sport/drama/music club enough.
It’s not a lost cause. No, we can’t be there when our kids are faced with these choices but we can talk to them about what might happen if they make the wrong choice. Like with everything else, there is no right or wrong answer – every family is different. It’s OK to have rules, but your rules may be very different to someone else’s. I know a lot of parents are scared to talk about alcohol for fear of being judged, but nobody’s perfect.
I still have a drink now and again at home and my children see that drinking in moderation is OK. I think that’s a healthy attitude. I think it’s naïve to think that we can live in an alcohol-free world – it’s just up to us to help our children handle it responsibly.
Blogging about children and alcohol opens up the conversation, and that’s not a bad place to start.
For more facts and figures, or for advice on talking to kids about alcohol, check out the Drinkaware website where you’ll find lots of really useful information.
My expenses to London were covered by Drinkaware.