Why Talking Matters When it Comes to Alcohol and Young People

Michelle

April 6, 2023

alcohol and young people

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We recently partnered with Drinkaware to ask parents who or what they believed had the most influence on their young people around alcohol. Interestingly, while we recognise we have an influence as parents, we believe that their friends had a greater influence.

Discover more about the influence you have and how talking matters when it comes to alcohol and your young person. And get tips and advice on ‘having the conversation.’

Parents as Influencers

When asked about your influence on your children around alcohol you told us – “I completely believe as a parent I have a huge part to play in the perception of alcohol in my daughter’s life.”

“The influence we have as parents, I believe, is more to do with our own attitudes towards alcohol and how we model this in front of our children.”

This is backed up by research which shows that Parents and Family members have the single strongest influence of all external factors on young people’s attitudes towards drinking. (1) This was also identified by young people themselves , (2) where they identified parents as being the main source of information on alcohol.

Recognising The Influence You Have

alcohol and young people

It is important as a parent that you recognise the influence you have.

Parental self-efficacy is belief in your ability to make a difference in your child’s attitudes, beliefs, behaviour and overall well-being and healthy functioning.

If you don’t believe you have a strong influence this will come through in your actions and behaviour around your young person. By believing friends and others have more of an influence on your young person, you are handing your power away.

However, the strength of your influence depends on the type of relationship you have with your young person. The impact of your relationship with your child lasts a lifetime and influences a young person’s self-esteem, resilience and decisions.

By creating a supportive and nurturing relationship, you will enable young people to make healthy decisions in a world where alcohol is freely available. It will mean your child will turn to you for guidance and support when needed.

There’s No Such Thing As Perfect

Parenting is never easy and there is no such thing as the perfect child or perfect parent.

Adolescence can be a particularly challenging stage of development for both you and your young person. It is a time of immense and confusing changes when fitting in becomes very important.

As young people try to find their place in the world, they look to friends for acceptance and want to be independent of you, their parents, while being under the control of or being led by their friends. A young person who does not feel a sense of belonging may succumb to friends’ requests to fit in, including experimenting with alcohol.

Maintaining a strong, loving, nurturing and open relationship with young people during adolescence will enable them to feel secure and stand on their own two feet without the need for alcohol.

As one parent commented: “You need to bring your children up to think for themselves and make their own decisions. They will of course make mistakes, but you need to be there for them.”

Parents Are Role Models

alcohol and young people

By your attitudes to, beliefs about and behaviour around alcohol, you can be an enabler of underage drinking or a protector from underage drinking.

You are a role model for your child around alcohol and have a unique opportunity to help them develop healthy attitudes towards alcohol use. The example you set around alcohol, the home rules you establish and behaviours you allow are important.

The research found that the majority of parents believe they are responsible in influencing their child’s attitude to and behaviour around alcohol. Comments included:

“Behaviour is learned- what they see parents doing is normalised. Children will copy their parents’ behaviour if not consciously, then unconsciously.”

“Yes, I think parents have a huge influence, as young children especially would observe their parents’ attitudes and use of alcohol and so most often would be a child’s example to form a child’s first opinions around alcohol use.”

Talking Matters

Order your free ‘Talking Matters’ booklet from Drinkaware for advice and support on having the conversation

Talking Matters alcohol and young people

Never Assume

Alcohol is often the first substance used by young people with the average age of consumption in Ireland being 15.5 years. (3)

  • The earlier young people start to drink the greater the possibility of harm including damage to the brain and to mental, emotional and physical health.
  • Young people who drink before or at 15 years old are four times more likely to develop alcohol-related problems later in life. (4)

It is important that you have conversations with young people about alcohol which can help protect your child from future alcohol harm.

  • Without the conversations, young people may see no harm in starting to drink underage. As one parent commented; “I would really love kids to know that alcohol doesn’t make you cool.”
  • By not talking about alcohol to young people, you may give the message that alcohol use is ok.
  • Disapproval of underage drinking needs to be clearly and consistently conveyed to your teen and matched with positive role modelling.
  • It is important that you monitor your teen’s behaviour and who they are with. “As parents, we have to keep a close eye on who they are with and where they are.”
  • You shouldn’t assume that young people know all about alcohol or that they and their friends are all drinking or will drink or that they won’t listen to you.

Assumptions distort our perception of reality and impact the decisions we make. Assumptions can stop you having the conversation or underestimate the impact of having conversations with young people about alcohol.

Having Conversations

alcohol and young people

In our findings, 80% of parents said they had a conversation with their child about alcohol. They talked about “How alcohol makes you feel when you drink it and how you feel after.” “Knowing the limits of your own body. Effects it has on behaviour.”  And “… why one should never drink and drive and the responsibilities that come with consuming alcohol.”

Parents thought the following should be discussed in conversations with young people:

  • The effects of alcohol on the body
  • The legal age to drink
  • Healthy and unhealthy attitudes towards alcohol
  • Peer pressure and alcohol
  • Consent and alcohol
  • Dispelling myths
  • How it can affect others, not just the drinker
  • How the body processes alcohol
  • The law re drinking and driving
  • Losing control/inhibitions

How and When to Have the Conversation

Parents were interested in finding out when and how to have the conversation with their children about alcohol. It is never too early or too late to start the conversation.

By talking to them at an early age you have a greater chance of influencing their decisions. You should tailor answers to their age and experience.

By having ongoing conversations with your child and role-modelling healthy behaviour, you are reducing the risks of harmful drinking now and later in life and giving your child the chance to develop resilience, cope with hurt and disappointment and celebrate achievements without the need for alcohol.

Tips for Talking to Young People About Alcohol

alcohol and young people
  • Don’t make a big deal about the chat as it should be ongoing and happen when having a meal or when watching tv etc
  • Don’t wait until your children are teens to have the conversation
  • Encourage conversation with listening as well as talking
  • Talk directly and answer questions honestly
  • Find out what they know already
  • Set clear expectations and explain clearly what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour around alcohol
  • Explain the rules in place and negotiate consequences
  • Chat about what their friends are doing and don’t criticise them but do criticise unacceptable behaviour
  • Explain the risks and law regarding underage drinking
  • Chat about healthy ways to deal with stress, coping, disappointment
  • Practice refusal conversations with your child
  • Respect your child’s growing independence
  • Revisit the topic regularly

Talking Matters

Alcohol should have no place in childhood and Drinkaware passionately believes that parents need to be supported with information, advice and tips for how to communicate and role model positive behaviours towards alcohol.

Drinkaware recently launched the ‘Talking Matters’ parent’s booklet which covers:

  • How and when to talk to your child about alcohol,
  • The risks of underage alcohol use,
  • The importance of building resilience in young people,
  • How you might respond to certain questions,
  • The importance of prevention
  • The law and alcohol in Ireland.

Order your copy 

To accompany the newly launched resource, Drinkaware will be facilitating workshops across the country for parents and webinars for online attendance, providing a safe and supportive space for parents to help the young people in their life remain alcohol-free.

For more information regarding workshops and webinars to support parents in having this conversation with the young person in their life email: martha@drinkaware.ie.

References: 

(1) Cairns, G., Purves, R., Bryce, S., McKell, J., Gordon, R. & Angus, K. (2011). Investigating the Effectiveness of Education in Relation to Alcohol: A Systematic Investigation of Critical Elements for Optimum Effectiveness of Promising Approaches and Delivery Methods in School and Family Linked Alcohol Education Alcohol Insight, 83.
(2) Behaviour & Attitudes (2016). Alcohol Education. Is it meeting the Needs of Junior Certificate Students? Dublin: Report Commissioned by Drinkaware.
(3) The Drinkaware Index (2019): Analysing Hazardous Drinking in Ireland. Dublin, Drinkaware
(4) Grant et al (1997) cited in Mongan et al (2007) Health Related Consequences of Problem Alcohol Use. Overview 6. Dublin. Health Research Board

Talking Matters Webinar

The next webinar for parents takes place on Wednesday, May 10th 2023 at 12.30 via Zoom. Tickets can be booked in advance . You can also submit a question in advance to be answered on the day.

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Alcohol and young people

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