With the Junior and Leaving Cert exams finishing soon, many young people across the country will be making plans to celebrate completing the biggest exams of their lives to date. This is as it should be but this also offers a good opportunity for parents to have a conversation about alcohol with their children.
Drinking alcohol from a young age is associated with a wide range of harms, which should not be underestimated. Here are just a few:
Being a positive role model and setting an example when it comes to your child’s relationship and understanding of alcohol is very important. As you know, children learn a lot by watching their parents so if you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, you are showing your children how to do the same. Do you know what a standard drink measure is? Are you drinking within the HSE weekly low-risk guidelines? 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.
Every teenager drinks, especially at post-exam events – right? Wrong! The most recent research shows that young people in Ireland are drinking less. Challenge this perceived norm - that everyone drinks before they are 18 years old (the legal drinking age) - and use it to open a discussion. Children can feel overwhelmed by different things going on in their lives, particularly at a potentially stressful and emotional time like this but building strong resilience will help them to bounce back and cope with adversity. While some may decide to drink alcohol before they reach 18 years, there are an increasing number who choose not to. It is up to each individual to make their own decision on this and parents can help by making sure their children have the resiliency skills needed to trust their own judgement.
Being open and engaging about your shared expectations about alcohol will help your child feel included in the decision-making process. Almost one-third of Irish parents have not discussed their rules about alcohol with their children but it's crucial that your rules are known to your children and that they are aware of the consequences for breaking those rules. How do they feel about alcohol? Do they have concerns about being offered alcohol at an exams party? Are any of their friends already drinking alcohol?
At our workshops, we often hear from parents who feel their children will follow thier friends' lead over theirs but this just isn't true. Parents are the single strongest influence on their child’s attitudes and future behaviours towards alcohol. The evidence consistenly shows this time and time again and we hope that parents are empowered by this, especially when it comes to alcohol.
In Ireland, it has become a relatively common practice for parents to allow children to drink alcohol at home under their supervision. In fact, 14% of parents believe it is acceptable for their children to drink alcohol at home before the age of 15 years, rising to 50% for under 18s. Some of the reasons we hear from parents for taking this approach include a belief that it introduces children to alcohol in a controlled environment and ensures they will have a more responsible attitude towards alcohol outside of the home. However, international evidence consistently shows that parental supply of alcohol to children is associated with alcohol-related harms, including an increased likelihood of binge drinking. Remember - it is illegal to supply alcohol to minors without the explicit consent of their parents.