Children are perceptive and take in everything that is happening around them - particularly the habits and behaviour of their parents or guardians. Being a positive role model and setting an example when it comes to your child’s relationship and understanding of alcohol is very important. When parents have a healthy relationship with alcohol, they are showing their children how to do the same. At Drinkaware, we want parents to be empowered by the fact that they are the single strongest influence on their children’s attitudes towards alcohol, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times. Here are some top tips to think about if you plan to drink alcohol over the Christmas season to make sure your influence is a positive one.
As a parent, it’s important to understand why your child might start drinking alcohol so that you can give them the information and facts they need to make informed decisions and improve their understanding of alcohol. In turn, this will influence their relationship with alcohol in the future. Irish teenagers are not drinking any younger or more frequently than their European counterparts, but where they differ is in the amount of alcohol that they drink in one sitting. This means that they are far more likely to binge drink on a typical drinking occasion. While there is no definitive list of reasons why young people start to drink, some possibilities include that they are curious about alcohol, their friends are drinking, they see their parents drinking or they see it as a way to cope with problems they are facing.
A good place to start when you are planning to talk to your children about alcohol is to think about your own relationship with alcohol. Be honest about your drinking habits and how they might be influencing your child’s attitudes about alcohol, especially at home. Do you know what a standard drink measure is? Can you identify the HSE low-risk weekly alcohol 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.
Just 2% of Irish adults can correctly identify the guidelines but they are important to know and can help you to see how much you are really drinking over the week. Remember, these are guidelines - not a target.
Common examples of one standard drink are a half pint of lager/stout/cider, a 100ml glass of wine or pub measure (35.5ml) of spirits.
Be mindful of the messages you may be sending about alcohol, often without even realising. For example, by saying “I could do with a drink” after a long day at the office or “I need a glass of wine” to de-stress or relax, could indicate to your children that alcohol is a necessary part of everyday life or a way to deal with an issue. If you are experiencing an issue or feeling stressed, do something different to unwind - take a walk, read a book, go to the gym. This will make it clear that alcohol is not to be used as a strategy to deal with problems or stress.
Over the festive season there tends to be more social occasions and reasons to celebrate with family, which is something we all look forward to. However there are also more opportunities to drink alcohol and this makes it more likely that your children will be around adults who are drinking. Recent research we conducted with parents revealed that family celebrations are the top occasion where children are exposed to their parents drinking, followed by almost half of parents (44%) saying in the home. During Christmas try to limit how often you or other family members drink alcohol in front of your children. Don't forget to stock up on no-alcohol alternatives for you and your guests!
In Ireland, it has become a relatively common practice for parents to allow children to drink alcohol at home under their supervision. In fact, our research found that 14% of parents believe it is acceptable for their children to drink alcohol at home before the age of 15 years. This figure rises to 50% for young people under the age of 18 years. Some of the reasons parents give for taking this approach include a belief that it introduces children to alcohol in a controlled environment, takes the mystery out of alcohol and ensures they will have a more responsible attitude towards alcohol outside of the home. The Drinkaware Index revealed that 27% of Irish adults were given their first drink by a parent or close relative, which is concerning as international evidence consistently shows that parental supply of alcohol to children is associated with alcohol-related harms, including an increased likelihood of binge drinking.
Young people need boundaries. Consistent rules and expectations for behaviour tell young people what is expected of them when it comes to alcohol. 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. This is a great opportunity to sit down together and find out about your child’s attitudes about alcohol. How do they feel about alcohol? Are any of their friends already drinking alcohol? Have they been offered alcohol? How did this make them feel? Being open and engaging about your shared expectations will help your child feel included in the decision-making process.
This is about knowing where your children is, who they are with at and what they are doing at all times. Children who are more closely supervised are less likely to start drinking alcohol. A quarter of parents in Ireland don’t know the rules of their child’s best friend’s parents in relation to drinking alcohol under 18 years. It is worth getting to know your child’s friends and making an effort to get to know the parents of their friends. Being aware of each other’s rules around alcohol can be helpful and will help to encourage open communication if there is a concern about underage drinking or access to alcohol.