Alcohol and Kids – Make a Plan.

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?


Filed under Children's Development, Parenting

17 responses to “Alcohol and Kids – Make a Plan.

  1. Ali

    I was really proud recently when I went to look at Oscar school and health was the topic.
    They could choose to add extra’s, Oscar was a wine bottle to mention about alcohol. The facts that at 10 years old I was impressed with not just of the health issue but things like it makes people do more dangerous things because people don’t think so straight.

    I asked if they had discussed it at School but no. His valuable information came from us. No big talks, no big lectures (I am sure lectures don’t work) but general conversation that just happens has given my 10 year old a good basis of alcohol.

    Alcohol not a big part of our household, weeks can go by without any being in the house. I do occasionally let my children have a very small amount of wine with a roast dinner. I did that as a child and despite reading lots of these blogs on this subject I will still do that.

    My Mum died when I was 19 because of alcohol, a friend’s husband died because he was drunk and thought he was invisable and plunged into the river Avon and another choked to death on their vomit.

    So I guess maybe I never make a issue of it but these things come up in conversation and will continue to.

    Be open and honest is the way forward. The looking out for friends has been something that missed my radar I am really glad to be reminded of this.

    Sorry terribly long reply XXXX

    • Openness and honesty is definitely the way forward, Do you find that your history means you can get very serious about it when it does come up? I’ve had to make sure I don’t load my children with my ‘stuff’ from having an alcoholic parent. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply, your input is really valuable.

      • Ali

        No I don’t get serious because that wouldn’t achieve anything. I am a great believer in what ever happens in your life if you can take it and use it for something useful that is great. My Mum dieing because of alcohol made me understand people more. Although it does make me realise how the slope to addiction is a easy one.

        I also worked with drug addicts, again a great people learning experience and something I can bring to the table if you know what I mean. But never with a lecture behind it xxx

        Hope your Dad keeps improving x

  2. Very useful ideas. I’m definitely going to have a chat about alcohol strengths. The Cherub books are a great way for kids to learn some first aid too, ie, putting people into the recovery position to try and prevent the choking on vomit problem. Nicola

  3. We talked quite openly about alcohol with our kids from quite a young age. Although we told them it was something that could be pleasurable we did highlight that it could also cause problems. We offered them watered down wine on special occasions from early teens.
    Our oldest (now 20) drank in moderation for a while but now chooses not to drink at all. The next (18) has never drunk. Partly because he is an elite rugby player with a professional contract but also because he just doesn’t like it. And my daughter (14) says she doesn’t like the smell or taste. Quite interesting really. Especially as their parents continue to knock it back!

    • It sounds like you got it right! I think if your kids have a reason to get up in the morning (like rugby) and to look after their bodies it makes it much simpler. Thanks for commenting. x

  4. cashew

    Did you read the Guardian ‘family’ section front page article this past weekend? I can’t remember the name of the author off the top of my head but sure someone can. An ex-alcoholic trying to work out how (and when) to speak to his daughter about alcohol, the holocaust etc etc..

  5. Belnicholls

    Thanks Christine. Another thought provoking post. Great tips and although my 2 are only 4 and 10 months I shall remember them.

  6. As the mother of two teens (& an 8 y/o) you have to be really careful HOW you talk to them because if they think for a second that you’re preaching, they’re off! It’s really difficult. Our school has a group come in to talk to the high schoolers about how bad it can get both with drink & drugs. They people are all ex-addicts or alcoholics and it seems to hit home as very few of the kids think there’s anything cool about it. I found it helpful to talk to them about these talks, and they were very open about having that conversation.
    I really did a fun DNA analysis thing on my youngest child recently, and found out that he is apparently 1.5 to 2.5 times more at risk for alcoholism. Presumably the same goes for my other two so I need to really stay on top of this one.

  7. @fleetwoodboy

    Too late for my kids as they’ve grown upnow buy as a person who has worked with alcoholics and seen the damage I whole hesrtedly support you and this blog xxx well done Chris

  8. “lead by example”. That does worry me because i am partial to a glass of wine or two in the evening. Apparently it’s not good to normalise it in that way. *gulps*
    I think your point about “look after your friends” is key. one of the things i want most for my kids is to have friends that will look out for them when they are doing stuff away from my eyes.


  9. The problem, in my mind, is that drunken antics *are* cool now. When I was in the drunken teen phase the more crazy photos on FB the better, it was a status symbol “I drunk so much that I…” That’s the real worry now, the lack of shame.

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