Sunday, 23 November 2014

Drinkaware : Have you talked to your kids about underage drinking?

Last week, Sophie, now aged 13, came home from school, laughing and rolling her eyes indignantly at some of the questions that they had been asked in an anonymous questionnaire. "It asked if we had ever tried drinking alcohol and then, in another question, it asked what we had for breakfast and, in the options to tick, it had beer or alcohol ! Who would ever drink alcohol for breakfast? - eurghhh !", she cried.

This was the perfect time to have one of the big life-lesson talks with her. I was secretly relieved and very reassured by her answers. I know what she gets up to at home with us but who really knows what their kids, especially during the teen years, get up to once they're out of sight with their mates? I remember the big hoo-ha back when Tony Blair was Prime Minister and his then 16-year-old son was found drunk in the gutter and picked up by police. While Blair's detractors rubbed their hands in glee, seeing the perfect chance to put the boot in, I couldn't help but feel for him as a parent. You can spend years instilling common sense and good advice into your kids while they're too young to get into trouble but, once they're old enough to be let off the proverbial leash, you just have to cross your fingers and hope that they make the right choices.

As a teacher, sitting in as a silent observer on some of the "dangerous behaviour" classes at school, I have to try not to show in my face how horrified I am by some of the responses I hear. Admittedly, some of the pupils may be showing off and just trying to shock the people asking the questions, but hearing about the 13 and 14-year-olds regularly helping themselves to the contents of their parents' drinks cabinets when they go out or sending their big brothers or older friends to the off licence for beer at the weekends had me feeling worried about my own kids.

I try to teach Sophie about responsible drinking, even now, when she still thinks she'll never want to drink alcohol because it tastes horrible. How does she know? Well, because I gave her some ! Before you call me a bad mother, she had a tiny sip of champagne last year at a wedding when she was wondering aloud what it tasted like and how she couldn't wait to try some. I decided that, rather like coping with chocolate cravings when you're on a diet, it might be better to nip it in the bud before it was all she could think of. She had a tiny sip out of my glass, pulled a face, said "eurggghhh that's horrible, why do people drink alcohol?" and swore off the stuff for life ! I know it won't last but at least she's lost the urge to try it, and at least I was around when she took that inevitable first sip.

I had a real angel-and-devil-on-my-shoulders moment when deciding whether to let her taste alcohol that early though and really wasn't sure if it was a good idea or not. That's why I was delighted to hear about Drinkaware's new campaign which aims to increase parents’ awareness of the risks associated with underage drinking and, importantly, to support parents to have well-informed conversations with their children about the risks of alcohol and underage drinking. The core target for the campaign is parents with children aged 10 to 13 years so I've been reading it all as it is perfectly suited to both Sophie and Juliette.

Drinkaware have re-launched a section of their website to provide medically approved information, facts, video resources and guides that are a mine of information for parents. (You can find it at The website content has been developed with the support of charity Family Lives and Dr Tim Ubhi, Consultant Paediatrician. There will also be two webinars on 27th November and 10th December for parents to ask any questions on issues surrounding underage drinking.

Parents have a key role in influencing the relationship their child develops with alcohol so this is one issue that it is really worth swotting up on before it comes up in conversation with your tweens and teens. There are a range of topics covered on the Drinkaware website, including information on the risks of underage drinking, why children drink, why talking is good and how to talk to your child. The "tough questions answered" section is brilliant, helping you out if you're not sure what to say.

If I'd read it before talking to Sophie, I think I'd have managed to give her convincing arguments without ever needing to resort to letting her have a sip. At least I'll be better prepared in a few years' time when it's Juliette's turn !

It's not too late for Sophie though. We played with the Spin The Bottle feature on the Drinkaware website to open her eyes (and mine) to some of the dangers of underage drinking : teenage pregnancies, liver damage even as early as in your 20s, weight issues and bad skin, being more likely to take drugs ... But it doesn't just demonise drinking. It points out that people do get pleasure from drinking, otherwise they wouldn't do it, but clearly sets out the risks of starting to drink too early and why it is better to wait a while. The tone is perfect - it sounds like a big sister or slightly older friend, not a preachy or judgemental parent or teacher.

If you still have questions or need advice, don't forget the two webinars :
- 27/11/14 on the risks associated with underage drinking:
- 10/12/14 on how to address the issue of alcohol with your child and how to
have effective conversations with them

Disclosure : I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent
bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for
Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and
retain full editorial integrity

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  1. I want my daughter to read Smashed by Koren Zailckas as a teen

    1. Ooh I hadn't heard of that one, I'll have a look :)