I was very glad to be able to attend an event run by Drinkaware to talk about alcohol education. Drinkaware is an independent charity and invited us parent bloggers to an event to publicise their new campaign which aims to encourage parents to talk to their children about alcohol. Drinkaware want to change the drinking culture and the website is packed full of useful advice for parents trying to talk to their children about alcohol. The hope is that the age children start drinking (currently thirteen) can be raised through education both at school and at home. However, don't expect your child's school to pass on the alcohol education message because it is not a compulsory part of the curriculum and not all schools have sessions on the topic.
My eldest daughter will be turning 12 next year, my middle daughter will be turning 8 and my youngest will be turning 6 towards the end of the year. My main parenting strategy when dealing with tricky subjects like alcohol is to keep communication lines open so they feel that they can discuss things with me. I have had discussions with them about alcohol and I'm really open about it. There have been questions put to me about why I drink when I know what it did, and still does, to my Dad who is an alcoholic. My answer to my children is that drinking alcohol can be enjoyable and can make you feel good but not when you drink to excess and are irresponsible with it.
I was shocked to learn that research has showed that only 17% of adults have a plan about how to talk about alcohol with their children. Research also shows that parents have the most influence on young people's attitudes to alcohol, this is especially the case if parents start conversations about alcohol early, before the teenage years when peers become a much bigger influence than parents. Thankfully there is help for us parents negotiating the minefield that is alcohol education and trying to talk to our kids about it. Drinkaware has launched a new toolkit to help parents discuss the issue of alcohol with their children. Just as well because there's so much confusion among parents over "the right approach".
Research has proven that the ‘Continental’ approach of allowing children to drink at home from a young age doesn't work. In fact, research shows that the earlier a child starts drinking, the higher their chances are of developing alcohol abuse or dependence. Apparently, rates of Cirrhosis of the liver are twice as high in France as they are in the UK and I was gobsmacked when I was told that binge drinking is just as prevalent in France as it is here in the UK. If you want more information the Observer published a superb article about it.
It's all too easy to get carried away with statistics of doom and gloom. We need to remember that not all young people are out drinking themselves senseless every weekend and being treated in hospital for alcohol poisoning. In fact, the attitude towards alcohol in children between the ages of 8-10 is pretty negative. This obviously changes as they get older, more curious and independent, and their peers have a greater influence on their behaviour. Chatting about alcohol doesn't have to be a big deal or lecture session. Remember, offering a listening ear is just as important as telling your child the facts.
The most useful tips I gained from the Drinkaware event and website are:
As a parent the worst thing you can say about drinking is nothing at all.
You might think being too strict could mean children rebel. But research shows if parents set rules about drinking, young people are less likely to get drunk. 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 the rules.
Building confidence and self esteem helps children to say no in a wide range of tricky situations and gives them tools to stand up to peer pressure.
Help your children find a get out clause or an excuse not to drink. Saturday morning dance/drama classes or sports matches that they need to be hangover free for are a great way for them to get out of drinking on a Friday night.
Target your approach to giving advice and facts to your child's individual needs. Specific facts like alcohol being a diuretic so it dehydrates the body and can make skin look pale and grey, may appeal to vain teenagers and make them think twice about drinking too much.
More help, information and resources
There's a wealth of information on the Drinkaware website for Parents and Schools.
The Parents section has loads of great resources, including a video where you can practise tricky conversations about alcohol with a 13 year old. You can also order the parents' leaflet Your Kids and Alcohol which we were given at the event - it's well worth a read.
Let you child's school know that teachers can get free primary and secondary resources, including lesson plans. There is a new programme called In:tuition that aims to build the esteem, confidence and decision-making skills of students aged 9 to 14 so they can make informed choices when faced with a range of issues – including alcohol, sex, relationships and health. The website has a video promoting the programme and schools can contact In:tuition if they want to be part of the pilot project.