Do you have a plan to talk to your children about alcohol? According to Drinkaware only 17% of parents do, so if you haven’t, you are not alone! Alcohol is a difficult one, many of us drink ourselves and it is tricky to decide how to broach the subject without sounding hypocritical. It is easy to end up saying nothing because we’re scared of saying the wrong thing.
When I wrote about alcohol and how adult alcohol consumption scares children a mere 4 months into my blogging ‘career’ I was on the receiving end of a great deal of Twitter bile from people who seemed to think I was attacking their personal drinking habits – it stirs up strong feelings.
But, 13 is the average age for a child to start drinking. By the age of 15, 25% of children are drinking more than once a week, to me that means we need to talk about it, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
I am not a great planner, I wouldn’t say that I had had a good think about the ‘sex talk’ or the ‘drugs talk’ or even the ‘crossing the road safely’ talk but I knew that I would have to have them and that it was better to do so sooner rather than later. A drip feed of reliable, accurate, age appropriate information from a parent is far preferable to playground whispers and peer pressure. Alcohol needs talking about and the topic needs revisiting as children grow as we do with all the other things which matter.
My children are very aware of the adverse effects of alcohol as my father spent some time in intensive care fighting to survive due to his alcohol mis -use. They have watched from a distance as he has fought to relearn to walk as a result. But there is no mileage in me scaring them witless and beating them with the ‘look what it did to your grandfather’ stick, they are young people, they are invincible, it ‘won’t happen to them’. What I need to do is to use facts and stats carefully, instil in them a sense of self worth and self respect (which I hope I have done) and one of self preservation.
With 4 children all at very different stages in their development I have to deal with each of them differently. Bonus Boy at 5 is blissfully unaware of much beyond the Lego box and his own chocolate consumption. He knows what wine is and that it is only for grown ups and he doesn’t question that anymore than he questions that we drive the car as he can’t reach the pedals.
My daughter at 11 is at the age when she is beginning to ‘feel more grown up’. Some of her friends may already be experimenting with alcohol so this is a really good time to start talking about the effects and to talk about peer pressure (again). Many children start drinking because ‘everyone does’ – actually 55% of 11-15 year olds haven’t had a drink. That’s a majority so, if she doesn’t drink, she’s not different!
My teens are surrounded by people who drink and get drunk and dealing with them is a whole other ball game.
At the Drinkaware event I attended recently it was Superintendent Julie Whitworth from Newquay in Cornwall who made me realise that I had a responsibility to help my teens with more than just a list of ‘don’ts’. She is the person who has to pick up the pieces and deal with the fall out from teenage drinking when huge numbers of students descend on the town after their GCSEs and A Levels to ‘celebrate’. It is her who has to phone parents (and gets abuse from some for ‘spoiling the kid’s fun’) to collect their children after they have been picked up in the town. It is she and her colleagues who have had to phone parents to tell them their children have fallen off cliffs and died after consuming alcohol in quantity.
Her advice for parents of teens is to talk to them about looking after their friends, talk to them about the risk of dying. Tell them to take drunk friends home to their parents whatever the consequences might be and not to let them lie down and sleep it off and risk choking on their own vomit and never waking up. Their friends are important to them, they don’t want to lose them. Talk to them too about the loss of dignity people are experiencing as their antics are posted on Facebook for all to see. Show them people looking stupid on facebook…teenagers hate looking uncool.
One thing it hadn’t occurred to me to talk about, until it was mentioned by Eileen Hayes of Parenting UK at the event, was the different strengths of alcohol. She talked about girls drinking wine as if it were vodka and about the drinks which are marketed at young people as if they are pop. I hadn’t even thought that my children wouldn’t know that spirits are stronger than wine because we rarely drink them – I found an opportunity to chat about that pretty quickly!
Parents who leave lines of communication open, who listen rather than lecture, who have rules and boundaries which they expect their children to respect, who provide their children with a positive role model and who treat their children with respect have everything in place to help their children through to adulthood.
We are relying heavily on everything we have done so far to keep our children safe. I trust them. They are busy people with interesting lives, things to do, places to go, people to see and I hope that that is enough.
Drinkaware’s very informative website with its brand new parents’ section has a good mixture of statistics, advice from experts and practical tips for parents and is well worth a visit. You can even have a practice conversation with a young person before you try it out on your own!
Have you talked about alcohol with your children? Do you have a plan to talk to them when they are older? Do you find this a tricky subject?