Talking to children about alcohol

I have never talked to my children about alcohol.    So if a campaign running at the moment is to be believed that must make me an irresponsible parent.   “Who is the designated talker?” scream huge adverts in magazines.

Er there isn’t one in this house.    So am I failing my children?  Am I bringing them up to be alcoholics?

I know about alcoholics.   Don’t ask me how, it’s personal but suffice to say in my extended family there have been members who have really struggled with alcohol addiction so I am well aware of how it works.    This also means I have a healthy relationship with alcohol.

I don’t think talking to children about “the dangers of alcohol” is the right way of educating our children at all.   Children don’t want you to sit them down and say “now then, I am going to talk to you about alcohol”.   That is just nonsense.    They also don’t want their parents saying “right, alcohol is evil.  Don’t touch the damn stuff”.   Because what is that going to do?

Yep, send them down the offie quicker than you can say Cheeky Vimto with a Jagerbomb chaser.

What we have in this house is a healthy respect for alcohol.    We have it in the house, the children have access to it, they are offered a drink whenever they want one, they see Mr B and I drinking.     That is how it has always been.    And do you know what?  They don’t bother.  Unless we are on holiday and they might have a pina colada, but even then invariably they don’t bother.

The earlier you talk to your children about the harms of alcohol the better equipped they are to deal with peer pressure.

What?  Sorry but I think that is a load of crap.   Peer pressure is peer pressure and it is relentless.   Do the campaigners really think that children are going to ignore peer pressure because they can quote the damage it does to livers and skin?  No.   I don’t think so either.

What children need is for adults to drink responsibly.   For adults to be seen having a glass of wine at the end of the day.  Or a beer with the football on the telly at lunchtime on a Saturday.   They need adults to drink it in moderation and learn that alcohol is not evil.

KidsAlcohol

What good is talking about the dangers of alcohol if children then just see their parents drinking (even if in moderation?).  It is sending mixed signals, surely?

That is what my three teens have grown up with.   Seeing Mr B and I have a drink with dinner, me having a Martini (even, shock horror, two or three pints of Martini and lemonade) Mr B having a few beers on a Friday night.   They see us drinking it, enjoying it, and then stopping.    They see we have a healthy respect for it.    They don’t hear us talking about “the dangers of alcohol”.

Alcohol is not dangerous.  What is dangerous is not having a respect for it.   Not knowing how to drink, and crucially, stop.    Knowing that you don’t need alcohol to have a good time and that going out with the sole intention of getting drunk is not a great reason to go out.

My eldest two are old enough to drink.   Do they go out and get drunk?  Nope.   I am not so naive as to think it hasn’t happened, of course it has, but they have a healthy respect for money and know that there is no point going out and spending £6 on a glass of vodka when they can get together with mates at home and buy a bottle for just over double that amount.     They also know that they can have fun with their mates and not have alcohol at all.

You put something on a pedestal and what happens?  Children will spend all their time trying to reach it.

Many people of my age grew up with dads going to social clubs on a Sunday lunch time getting out of the way whilst mum cooked dinner.   The kids went too.   They went out with their parents, saw them drinking, and saw them coming home again, having their dinner and then a cheeky nap.     They grew up around alcohol.    Our parents didn’t talk about it to us and tell us it was evil!

Is it any coincidence that we have a “No sex please, we are British” approach to talking about sex and one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe??  We don’t talk about sex in healthy relationships, we talk about HIV and rabbits in school (and I don’t mean the Ann Summers type)

Sorry, but I think this campaign insisting we “warn of the dangers” is misguided, and in itself dangerous.

 

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  • I think you just said this far better than I ever could! Thank you! I also have family with alcohol issues so am well aware of how it can go wrong, but feel like dumping a burden of how dangerous it is on my children is not the way to handle it. Setting a good example, in front of them, like everything else, then talking to then when needed is better. Sadly, I don’t think our view is the most popular, I’ve seen a lot on social media about how we need to talk to our kids early about it and it’s really being pushed hard!

  • As someone who grew up around alcoholics (Mum, Dad and later, Mum’s partner) I have to say I agree. Alcohol was strictly reserved for the grown ups, even as a teen. So, as soon as I could get into nightclubs, I obliterated it. I learned the hard way. On the other side of the coin are my sisters, who grew up with my Auntie and Uncle when my Mum died. They were allowed the odd glass of wine or bubbly on special occasions, for a toast or with a meal and they have a wonderfully healthy respect for it. Of course they have both got drunk, who hasn’t? But in the main they have a far more mature attitude than I ever did!

  • I agree entirely. I think observing their parents behaving sensibly with alcohol will be far more effective than lecturing them about it. This country is getting so uptight and I really don’t think it does anyone any good.

  • I completely agree with everything you have said. Having a healthy respect for alcohol is far more relevant. The countries I have lived in where alcohol is part and parcel of life – here for example where Bier is hugely important – seem to respect it more and have less of a problem with it. I am not going to tell my two not to drink when they are older because then like you have said, that’s exactly what they are going to do… And if you respect it, it’s not going to be a problem. Everything in moderation and all that! 🙂

  • I agree with you, it’s important to show your kids that you can have a healthy relationship with alcohol and can drink it to enjoy. When I first came to the UK, I was shocked about the drinking culture. A lot of people wouldn’t have a social drink with their friends, but drink pint after pint after pint, simply to get absolutely hammered or to prove to their mates just how much they can drink. My parents never drank much, maybe a glass of wine with food or a glass of champagne for celebrations or when friends are around, so I do think that I have picked up my healthy attitude towards alcohol from them. I haven’t had a drink in ages. It’s nice to have a glass or two with friends, but I don’t need alcohol to be sociable or have fun. I find it quite sad, if someone does x

  • I grew up around a lot of social drinking. My mothers father was an alcoholic, so ultimately seeing him in a very unhealthy way gave me a very healthy dose of respect.
    As a teen there were so many occasions that I went out and got incredibly smashed.
    As an adult, it doesn’t bother me if I drink or don’t drink. I like the odd glass of wine with dinner. However I’ve always said that when my daughter is older (she’s only 7 months old) when we have family dinners and special occasions then she is welcome to have a glass of wine/bubbly/beer with her dinner.
    The worst thing you can do is tell a child they can’t have it because it makes them want it all the more.
    Chances are she probably won’t like the taste of it (I didn’t!)

  • Nothing to add here, I am in total agreement with you and all the commenters so far! We’ve always had wine at the table and I guess that made it about choice not an exciting thing to binge on when parents weren’t looking. We also have a very full drinks cabinet but not even the teen boy in his wildest days ever thought to dip into it. Very well said, T.

  • Agree totally – Being open about everything and talking to your children about things in the best policy across the board. The more you talk the children about anything, the more of life’s experiences both good and bad that we have had we share with out children the more likely they are to open up to us and ask questions. I for one don’t want my children to feel that there is anything they can’t talk to me about.
    We don’t need to scaremonger children, we need to have enough respect for them to trust them to make their own decisions. x

  • Totally agree! In my experience, those parents who scaremonger are the ones who don’t have enough knowledge or experience! The “black & white” approach to life just makes kids want to go out and experiment! Preaching achieves very little. We need to empower our kids with knowledge. The RIGHT knowledge x

  • I am in full agreement – my parents never gave me the talk but offered me respect if I gave respect back, especially where drink was involved. Even nowadays I do not even have a glass in front of them… still respecting the boundaries. My daughter is still far too young to even know about alcohol but I do not hide the fact I drink and always answer any questions she has, being open is the best policy – also means when they do have tricky questions they are more likely to go to you for advice and guidance.

  • Yep, agreeing here too. Neither my husband or I drink alcohol so it is never in the house. Amy is curious though and I know she will try it when she’s older.

  • talking to children doesn’t always work, I have talked to my daughter bout not in depth but i have and i’m worried about her love affair with alcohol these days, we have family who is addicted and her own father loves it but I on the other hand dont drink (or often and never drunk) it all depends on the child themselves x

  • I have to say that I completely agree with you. Growing up with a strict mother who constantly went on about the evils of alcohol etc made me want to try it even more. As you so rightly said, if you make something so unreachable, it becomes all the more desirable. It’s the same with cigarettes and every other taboo.

  • I agree in that it is how you act and not what you say – it’s just modelling isn’t it. Great post T.

  • I have worked with Drinkaware for the last couple of years, and from my work with them I know that their campaigns are around talking to children about alcohol. Drinkaware works closely with doctors, police officers and parents themselves and has done massive research in this area.

    Through this relationship, I met a police officer who works in Newquay, and regularly has to call parents to tell them to collect kids who are on holiday and have become drunk. She told me it’s generally the kids from ‘good’ families whose parents don’t want to chastise them and say “it’s just a few drinks” and accuse the police of over-reacting.

    And then she told me something I won’t ever forget. “No parent ever said that to me when I rang to tell them their 15 year old had walked straight off a cliff.”

    Drinkaware has loads of resources to help parents approach the subject of alcohol with their children, in a constructive and age-appropriate way. They absolutely don’t recommend teaching kids that alcohol is evil or forbidden, but they do believe it is vital that children are informed by their parents, and not their peers (large research suggests most kids take their attitudes to alcohol from their parents, first and foremost, not their peers)

    So for example, do your children know WHY it is that young people aren’t allowed to drink alcohol? Do they know the differing impact on a 15 year old versus a 25 year old? Do they know what a measure looks like, and why a measure of vodka is smaller than a measure of wine? Do they understand that when their friends drink the most important thing is to ensure everyone makes it home safely? That you don’t put a seriously drunk friend to bed lying down? That you don’t ever leave them? Do they know that NO MATTER WHAT, they can always call you for help, and your priority will be to keep them safe, not chastise them for being drunk?

    The campaign we work on isn’t about scaring kids or telling them not to drink but it is about reminding parents that the number of kids being admitted to A&E with alcohol related illness and injury is spiralling year by year, that UK kids now take their first alcoholic drink at a younger age than ever before, that children (and particularly girls) are drinking more, in fewer sessions, than ever before? With the average age a child has their first alcoholic drink in the UK now at just under 13, I think saying you need to start talking to kids at the age of 9 or 10 is pretty sound advice.

    It’s about saying, don’t overlook the dangers that alcohol presents. Ensure your kids are informed and know how to make safe choices. Give them the information they need to withstand peer pressure if that’s what they want to do. And if they don’t, then for the sake of all that’s holy, be sure that they understand how to keep themselves and their friends safe. As parents, that’s all we really want, isn’t it? To know they’re going to walk back in the door at the end of the night, safe and sound?

    Yes, modelling good behaviour around alcohol is hugely important. But it’s not necessarily enough. And for those parents who end up picking up their kids from A&E at 3am on a Saturday morning (or worse) it’s too late to have that first conversation.

  • I couldn’t agree with your more. There’s stuff outside the classroom that can teach children better. I unfortunately lost an uncle to drink driving of which there was a documentary made about. It was awfully groosum and disturbing, but none of us were shown it until out 18th birthdays (legal drinking age in the UK). We made our own decisions and learned for ourselves some of the issues around drinking, but we were never forced into agreeing with our parents what was right and wrong. Just like you said, alcohol isn’t the problem, it’s the person behind it.