Curbing Teenage Drinking – When is it OK for your kids to start drinking?

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Teenage drinking

Sir Liam Donaldson the Medical Chief recently launched five-point guide for parents on how to stop children abusing alcohol.

As all my friends know, I like a glass of wine or two, but teenage drinking is a very big problem here in the UK and it needs your support, your confidence and your belief in your own opinions and values around responsible drinking to help make a change.

It starts with you.

You are the key to curbing your teenagers’ harmful and potentially dangerous drinking habits, according to the chief medical officer.

Launching a five-point plan for parents to tackle teenage drinking, Sir Liam Donaldson, warned that no child aged under 15 should be drinking at all, and any child aged 15 to 17, if drinking, should be doing so infrequently and under the supervision of a parent or carer.

Donaldson advised parents to intervene to control their children’s drinking. “Parents who turn a blind eye or condone children who go out into the park and slump into bed drunk at 3 o’clock in the morning are far more likely to have children who grow up to be problem drinkers,” he said.

The children’s secretary, Ed Balls, together with the health secretary, Alan Johnson, said at the launch that parents had told them they did not want a change in the law on buying or drinking alcohol, but instead wanted to know what was safe and what was wise.

There was wide acceptance among parents that the scale of drinking by children and adolescents was a problem, they said.

Ed Balls added: “Parents instinctively know supervised drinking is much better, but how you do it is really hard,” he said.

“I don’t think you can underestimate how difficult it is being a parent of a teenager today.”

A third of a million children aged 11-15 get drunk in a typical week.

Every year 6,000 children of their age are admitted to hospital because of alcohol.

Donaldson’s guidelines for parents urge you to take a tough line.

Research shows that parents’ attitude to children’s drinking can make the difference, he said.

“The things that come out very, very strongly are the importance of the family. Where parents don’t condone drinking and point out the consequences and the health effects, research shows that children start drinking later, if at all, and drink at moderate levels.”

The guidelines urge parents to:

• Lead by example and establish family values on alcohol;

• Educate and inform children of the harm drinking can do;

• Set boundaries – make it clear that children should not drink and that drink parties, clandestine drinking and getting drunk are not acceptable;

• Encourage positive alternatives, such as sports and clubs;

• Challenge the stereotype of the heroic, macho or amusing drinker.

Donaldson also points to the real physical harm that alcohol can do to children, whose brains are still developing – risking damage to the white matter in the prefrontal area of the brain and the hippocampus, he said. Such damage would impact on their emotions and behaviour and could also affect their long-term memory and ability to find words.

The belief in some middle-class families that you can teach children to drink by giving them wine with meals, as it is assumed happens in some Mediterranean countries, is not founded on any evidence, Donaldson said.

“France has problems with drinking,” Johnson added. “They are currently going through legislation to raise the age of purchase from 16 to 18. Whereas it was probably true that drinking as part of social interaction and not to get drunk was the norm, binge drinking is now a problem in France.”

Ed Balls, the Government Minister for Children, Schools and Families accepted that the drinking culture exhibited on television and in the bragging about drinking exploits on radio programmes was a problem.

“But the link between what parents do themselves and what they say to their children about the right way to do things is far more of an influence on children’s drinking behaviour than parents are ¬currently aware of,” he said.

So as a parent of two teenage kids I know firsthand how difficult it can be to get a balance as Will recently had another “gathering” at our house. He invited his friends round for a Darts Tournament and as he is a year younger than his peers it’s always tricky for us to let him have “street cred” and be safe. So they are allowed to bring two cans each and we stay diplomatically “out of the way” but around to keep an eye on things.

The great thing is if you relax, don’t try to hard to get involved and keep the lines of friendly communication open we were invited to join in …… how cool was that?

Responsible drinking is something we can all get involved in – it’s about not being frightened to pass on your values about alcohol and teaching your kids about balance.

I got it wrong sometimes at the Pied Bull in Norbury a few times back in the 80’s so will your kids. But it’s not just about merely judging and criticising them when they get it wrong but educating them so they proactively learn from their mistakes – it’s about offering an open and friendly helping hand to lift them up not a clenched fist of disappointment which leaves them down.

So ask yourself:

• What do I think is acceptable to me as a parent?

• How do I pass on my thoughts and beliefs to my kids?

• Do I talk to my kids about the dangers of too much alcohol?

• What’s stopping me?

• How do my kids learn what is safe and what’s not?

• Am I good role model for what I believe?

• How do I talk about alcohol?

• Am I confident in what I say?

• What small change could I make this week to make my kids safer, wiser or starting to think for themselves about this very important issue?


Give me a call if you’d like me to help you with this difficult issue on 01883 818329 or email me for an appointment to work 1-2-1 with me. [email protected]

If you have found this article helpful and thought provoking please pass it forward to your friends, colleagues, schools and nurseries……. because as they say … “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

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About the author

Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the  famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.

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  Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
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