Parents often feel helpless about their children and alcohol. You might feel there is little you can do to prevent them from experimenting with alcohol underage or getting pulled into drinking unwisely. But countless studies have shown that parents have significant influence over the attitude and relationship their child develops with alcohol. So the truth is, there is plenty you can do.
What helps prevent early drinking?
– Having resilience and self-esteem: By always loving the person even when weâ€™re not happy about their behaviour. By letting them fail and helping them learn they can overcome difficulties. By praising them when they do try hard and encouraging them to do their best, whatever. By having rules and routines, a â€˜can doâ€™ attitude and by encouraging strong connections with family and friends and by listening to and respecting them. When children see themselves as capable of solving problems, they have resilience and good self-esteem.
– Look at your own approach to alcohol: The truth is children do not do as we say â€“ they do as we do. If you want to prevent your children drinking underage the first thing you have to do is look at your own drinking and possibly make changes. If you regularly drink above the lower risk guidelines (two-three units a day for women and three-four units a day for men) it isnâ€™t good for you, and is a bad example to them. Itâ€™s not just the amount, either. If you reach for alcohol to calm you down when upset; to relieve stress; to celebrate success, then they may get the message that alcohol is the answer to everything. Hearing things like â€œWhat a day I need a drink!â€ or â€œLetâ€™s get the beers in, itâ€™s time for the footieâ€ confirms in their minds that drinking is just what you do, regardless of occasion.
– Agree rules and boundaries around alcohol: When it comes to teenagers you may feel thereâ€™s little point in having rules and boundaries, theyâ€™ll only break them â€“ itâ€™s what teenagers do! But in fact we know that while kids push against rules they feel safer having them, and they do pay attention. If youâ€™ve talked them through your expectations and agreed boundaries with them, they â€˜buy inâ€™ and feel the rule is theirs to keep. Rules can be very useful for them to quote at friends â€“ â€œNo thanks, I would join in, but my parents will make life hell for me if I do so Iâ€™ll give it a missâ€
– Help them to see they can say no to drink: Saying no is an art. To say no, young people need to recognise that it doesn’t mean theyâ€™re rejecting a friend or being dull or rude. Theyâ€™re looking after themselves. You could show your child how to avoid being pressured to do something by being assertive. The best way to learn is to talk it through with you, to practise how to turn down things they should be allowed to refuse. It will help them if you sometimes demonstrate this behaviour in social situations, for example by refusing an alcoholic drink when offered and saying â€œno thanks, Iâ€™ll have a soft drink instead.â€
– Introduce alternates to drinking alcoholic beverages: Work out what alternatives you and your family might use instead of alcohol. This could be any nice thing you can give yourself or another person as a reward or a comfort. A hug, a good chat or the offer of tea could work to de-stress you more than alcohol ever could. So could a favourite film, exercise, some music or a favourite meal or treat. Talk through what would help and use those instead of alcohol.
– Prevent alcohol being the answer to boredom: Drinking with friends often happens because kids are bored and have little else to do. If theyâ€™re busy with exciting or interesting activities such as reading, playing games, getting in touch with friends, taking part in sport, joining activity clubs, scouts or guides, then they won’t have time to be bored. Set yourself and them the task of finding out whatâ€™s available and what they might like to get involved in.
– Knowing and welcoming their friends: If children think their parents donâ€™t like their friends then they are not likely to spend time with them at their home. But that could then lead to not knowing where they are, who they are with or what time they will be home. Of course they want privacy and independence. If you offer them the chance to spend time with their friends on their own at home, you may be surprised how eagerly they take it up. Welcome their friends, but leave them alone, you can always drop by their room to see if they want a snack or drink.
– Making contact with other parents: Most parents share your concerns. However, amongst the parents of your childâ€™s friendship group there may be differing perspectives and approaches when it comes to alcohol. Whatever their approach you need to have a response prepared if your child argues that they should be allowed alcohol at home because their friends are. Where possible get to know the parents of your childâ€™s friends. Make friends, either face to face or on social media. Ring, message or call round for a chat and agree shared rules around alcohol at parties or on nights out.