Tips and advice on how to talk to your children about alcohol

Parents need support on how to speak to their children about alcohol, so says JENNIFER FLYNN, Director of Communications at Drinkaware, who tells us about their new campaign
Tips and advice on how to talk to your children about alcohol

Bad company, schoolboy forcing friend to drink alcohol, initiation into gang

RESEARCH consistently shows that although what influences children may change as they grow older, parents are the most powerful influence on their children’s future attitudes and behaviours, especially regarding alcohol.

Drinkaware, the national charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol misuse and delay the age of first drink, is engaging with parents with tips and advice on how to talk to their children about alcohol.

Each year Drinkaware conducts an annual Barometer survey to explore Irish adults’ attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol, and across 2020 and 2021 we found that family households area a specific population group in need of extra support.

The pandemic has no doubt put a massive amount of pressure on parents, and with this in mind, at the start of April Drinkaware launched a parents’ focused digital campaign, providing tips, advice and public health resources to support parents in starting the conversation about alcohol with their children.

Research consistently shows that although what influences children may change as they grow older, parents are the most powerful influence on their children’s future attitudes and behaviours, especially with regard to alcohol. 

Research carried out with junior cycle students saw them rank their parents as their leading source of alcohol education at 95%, with teachers coming in at a close second at 89% (B&A 2016).

Alcohol education in schools is critical and the Drinkaware Alcohol Education programme covers the junior cycle years and is delivered by teachers within schools. However, education in school needs the support of parents and the wider community. With the summer months approaching, it is timely to provide parents with information and support on how to have these conversations within the home.

A good place to start when you are planning to talk to your children about alcohol is to think about your own relationship with alcohol. 

Be honest about your drinking habits and how they might be influencing your child’s attitudes about alcohol, especially at home.

Do you know what a standard drink measure is? Common examples would be half a pint of beer/lager, 100ml glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits. Can you identify the HSE low-risk weekly alcohol guidelines? No more than 17 standard drinks for men and 11 for women a week, spread out over the week, with at least two alcohol-free days.

Getting the facts on these basics can help you to understand your drinking habits while laying the foundation for an informed conversation about alcohol with your child.

Alcohol has no place in childhood, and these conversations can be challenging and difficult, which is why this campaign focuses on providing parents with tools and resources they can utilise to help guide the conversation. We all know that parents are doing their best, and there are many misconceptions out there regarding underage drinking, which is why it’s critical that parents are provided with trusted, evidence-based information.

The Drinkaware parents campaign initially focused on debunking many of the myths that persist for example:

· Myth: If I allow my teenager to drink at home, they will be less likely to drink outside the home

· Reality: There is growing evidence that supplying alcohol under parental supervision can have the opposite effect and is associated with additional risks, with teenagers being just as likely to misuse alcohol outside of the home.

· Myth: My child isn’t a teenager yet – I don’t need to talk to them about alcohol

· Reality: By the age of five children have already formed some basic attitudes about alcohol, and how you treat alcohol as a parent will influence their opinions.

In May the focus of the campaign has been on building resilience and for June the focus will be on noticing small changes that could be a sign that something is up. Is your child out of the house more than usual? Have their sleeping and/or eating patterns changed? Are they hanging out with a new group of friends that you haven’t met yet? 

These small changes can be an indication that something is going on, having a conversation about these changes can encourage open communication if there is a concern about underage drinking or access to alcohol.

At Drinkaware we regularly hear how people assume that most young people will drink, but it does not have to be this way and we need to challenge that expectation as a society. We know that parents desire this information, as dramatic increases (+521) in visits to the Drinkware Parents hub illustrate. Talking to young people about alcohol can be difficult, but the conversation is necessary and there’s lots of support by way of training, videos and booklets to help them on their way at drinkaware.ie/parents.

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