alcohol and young people

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Alcohol and young people

The age of your child’s first drink is crucial, so it’s important to talk to them before they have their first experience with alcohol. Their attitudes will change over time so read our ‘how to talk to kids’ guide to help you know what to say when.

  • 8-10 years
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    At this age children’s perceptions of alcohol are usually negative.

    Questions your child might ask

    Children may start to take notice when people around them are drinking, for example at the dinner table or a family occasion like a wedding. They may ask simple questions such as,”What is that?” or “Why do you drink?”

    How to answer them

    Explain to your child that alcohol is only for adults and that there is a sociable side to alcohol, but if you drink too much there can be bad consequences for your health and safety.

    Offer a listening ear

    As a parent the worst thing you can say about drinking is nothing at all. Offering a listening ear is just as important as telling your child the facts. Reassure them that you will listen to their experiences and wont judge them if they have tried alcohol.

    Use conversation triggers

    Having a plan will make your life easier. Rather than waiting for something bad to happen, think about when and how you are going to start to conversation and keep it going.

    Set rules

    You might think being too strict could mean they rebel. But research shows if parents set rules about drinking, young people are less likely to get drunk, so it’s important to work together to agree boundaries around alcohol. Agree on realistic consequences if they break the rules, and follow through if necessary, but reward them if they keep to them.

    Find out how much they already know

    If your child asks you a question about alcohol they’re open to further discussion, so take the time to find out how much they already know and make sure they know the right facts.

     

     

  • 9-12 years
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    At this age children will become more curious about alcohol.

    Questions your child might ask

    What does it taste like? What does alcohol do to you? What does being drunk feel like? If you’re drunk, do you stay drunk forever?

    How to answer them

    This is a good time to talk to kids about the impact of alcohol on the body. You could also explain how it feels to be drunk, for example, you might do silly things or feel sick. You might want to talk about the difference between drinking in moderation and abusing alcohol. Make sure your child understands that different types of alcohol have different strengths.

    Offer a listening ear

    As a parent the worst thing you can say about drinking is nothing at all. Offering a listening ear is just as important as telling your child the facts. Reassure them that you will listen to their experiences and wont judge them if they have tried alcohol.

    Have a plan

    Having a plan will make your life easier. Rather than waiting for something bad to happen, think about when and how you are going to start to conversation and keep it going.

    Use conversation triggers

    If an opportunity to talk to your child doesn’t present itself, try using triggers to prompt discussion. These could include: At dinner while having a drink with your meal. Alcohol-related news stories, soap opera storylines, documentaries or anecdotal school stories. Asking what they have learnt about alcohol at school. If they’ve learnt about calories, you could draw the comparison between eating too much bad food and getting fat, and drinking too much and getting ill. After special occasions where people are drinking, like a wedding or birthday party. When you’re unpacking the shopping or in the alcohol aisle of the supermarket.

    Set rules

    You might think being too strict could mean they rebel. But research shows if parents set rules about drinking, young people are less likely to get drunk, so it’s important to work together to agree boundaries around alcohol. Agree on realistic consequences if they break the rules, and follow through if necessary, but reward them if they keep to them.

    Get to know your children’s friends’ parents

    They might share your concerns, so you so you could agree on rules around parties and supervision. You can also share anecdotes, which might help you prepare for your own conversations.

    Find out how much they already know

    If your child asks you a question about alcohol they’re open to further discussion, so take the time to find out how much they already know and make sure they know the right facts.

    Encourage them to make decisions

    Learning about drinking isn’t only about factual alcohol education. By helping your child learn how to weigh up the pros and cons of other scenarios, like which secondary school to go to or whether to travel home alone, you can prepare them for making their own decisions about alcohol.

     

  • 11-14 years
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    By ages 11 to 14 children may be experimenting with alcohol. They could be offered drinks by a friend or might seek to try it themselves.

    Questions your child might ask

    Can I have some of your drink? Why are you allowed to drink but I’m not?

    How to answer them

    Now’s a good time to talk about peer pressure and help your child think of ways to deal with any pressure they might be under to drink. You might want to discuss rules about drinking and agree consequences should they break these – making it clear the rules are there to keep them safe. We would recommend that children at this age not be encouraged in any way to start using alcohol and that as a parent you set a good example and drink responsibly.

    Offer a listening ear

    Make sure your child knows that drinking is a decision. Try talking about ways they can say “no” so they feel confident in that situation. They could say they are training for a sports match the next day or that they have a family event, its not easy being a young person, try and remember how tough it was for you and try to relay some of the problems you faced growing up.

    Get the timing right

    Pick a time with neither of you feel rushed or under pressure. Avoid starting a conversation about alcohol just as your child is going to bed or walking out the door to a party. Like all important conversations they should be in a calm environment and both sides should have time to listen , understand and respond to each others points of view. Ultimately though as the parent you have a responsibility to ensure the safety of your child.

    Encourage them to make decisions

    Learning about drinking isn’t only about factual alcohol education, by helping your child learn how to weigh up the pros and cons of other scenarios, like which secondary school to go to or whether to travel home alone, you can prepare them for making their own decisions about alcohol. Its good to talk to your child and explain that bad decisions can have consequences which can impact on the rest of their life as well as the short term impact. Good decision making is a life skill that children must be supported in and shown by the actions of a parent, so the role of the parent is crucial in setting a good example.

     

  • 13-17 years
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    By this age your child may have had a number of alcoholic drinks and tested their limits – so might consider themselves experienced drinkers.

    Questions your child might ask

    Can I take some drink to the party? Can you buy me some drinks? But all my friends are drinking why can’t I?

    How to answer them

    Explain to your kids that alcohol is only for adults and that there is a sociable side to alcohol, but if you drink too much there can be bad consequences for your health and safety. If you know your child is drinking, make sure they’re aware of the risks and give them tips to help them stay safe. If they’re going out, find out who they are with and what they are planning to do. Agree with your children that if they ever get into a situation involving alcohol where they feel uncomfortable, they can call and get picked up, no questions asked. It’s important to be aware of how accessible alcohol is in your house and not to provide your child with alcohol. But if you do decide to, make sure you give them non-alcoholic drinks too and encourage them to alternate. We would however encourage parents to promote abstinence until the child is the legal age to consume alcohol.

    Use conversation triggers

    If an opportunity to talk to your child doesn’t present itself, try using triggers to prompt discussion. These could include: At dinner while having a drink with your meal. Alcohol-related news stories, soap opera story-lines, documentaries or anecdotal school stories. Asking what they have learnt about alcohol at school. If they’ve learnt about calories, you could draw the comparison between eating too much bad food and getting fat, and drinking too much and getting ill. After special occasions where people are drinking, like a wedding or birthday party. When you’re unpacking the shopping or in the alcohol aisle of the supermarket.

    Have a plan

    Having a plan will make your life easier. Rather than waiting for something bad to happen, think about when and how you are going to start the conversation and keep it going.

    Offer a listening ear

    As a parent the worst thing you can say about drinking is nothing at all. Offering a listening ear is just as important as telling your child the facts. Reassure them that you will listen to their experiences and wont judge them if they have tried alcohol.

    Get the timing right

    Pick a time with neither of you feel rushed or under pressure. Avoid starting a conversation about alcohol just as your child is going to bed or walking out the door to a party. Like all important conversations they should be in a calm environment and both sides should have time to listen , understand and respond to each others points of view. Ultimately though as the parent you have a responsibility to ensure the safety of your child.

    Teach them that they can say no

    Make sure your child knows that drinking is a decision. Try talking about ways they can say “no” so they feel confident in that situation. They could say they are training for a sports match the next day or that they have a family event to attend.

    Keep your children occupied

    Research shows one in six children drink because they say they are bored. If you can, offer a space where your child can spend time with their friends without alcohol or encourage them to take up a hobby. Importantly it is crucial to offer to do things with your children and remain engaged in their lives. Promoting that your child remains involved in clubs and groups through their teenage years is a major protective factor, as young people reach this age many feel ‘too old’ for certain things, encouraging and supporting them to remain in or find new interests is extremely important.

     

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