Children, teenagers and alcohol is something that does exercise our minds, particularly as the holiday season approaches.
Hi, I’m Doctor Joe.
It’s probably fair to say it’s something that exercises our minds at any time of year. And interestingly, despite all the doom and gloom that you hear, teenagers collectively are actually drinking less than in previous generations. In fact new figures show that people stopped for drunk driving are more likely to be parents than teens.
There are also cultural issues. In Europe it’s interesting that they have, in particularly Mediterranean countries like France and Italy, a very different approach to introducing teenagers in particular and children to alcohol than we do in perhaps Anglo-Saxon cultures.
Alright, alcohol is not good for growing brains. I think that’s a given. But I think most of us also know that there is a dose-effect with most things and that one drop of wine is different to one bottle of wine. So the question arises, at what age can one introduce children to alcohol and should one, and in what way? And that’s a little bit like saying, “Well how should you bring up your children?” And I don’t think there’s an absolute answer to that question. It very much depends on the individuals, their level of maturity and their interests.
Probably the most important thing that we can do as parents is set the right example. So it’s, and this is going to sound obvious, it’s not really much use rolling around the place drunk and throwing up and telling your children not to drink because you’re not really setting, I’m sure nobody whose watching this video is going to do that, but you know, that’s not really setting a very good example.
Children, even before they can talk, do observe what their parents do. And they will start to in different ways mimic, so setting a good example is really number one, two and three. Be prepared to initiate a conversation with your child at an age that you think is appropriate, about alcohol. Now it might be whilst you’re watching sport and an ad comes on. It might be because there’s been an item on the news about something to do with alcohol and your child asks. So, you know, never avoid answering that question, but your answer is necessarily age specific.
Fire is really useful to cook our food but if it gets out of control it can burn the house down. A glass of wine with dinner is not a problem; drinking a couple of bottles of wine is a major problem. So again, it’s about how we use the substance rather than the substance itself.
Again, in European countries often it’s introduced at the family dinner table at a younger age and it’s watered down. So children get used to the idea, “Yes there’s a little bit of taste, it’s something we do in a family setting, it’s part of the social character.”
It’s a little bit better I think than what we do here where drinking alcohol is seen as something separate to other things we do. So you socialise and/or go drinking rather than having it at the dinner table, as part of a social event. Again there’s no right or wrong.
There’s a lot of campaigns saying that under 18 one shouldn’t drink and there are legal issues around that and we’re not going to go into those, but within the confines of the home, if you have a child who is interested, it’s probably a much better idea to let them have a little taste, and people will disagree with this but that’s fine. To have a little taste and do it in a controlled environment rather than take an absolute prohibitionist approach which ultimately will see that child most likely take it anyway but outside of control. So it’s like the equivalent of behind the old school shed, that sort of thinking.
So much better to be open and honest with your child. You can tell them about your own experiences if you’ve had occasions when you’ve had a few too many and I think most people have had that. Then be open and honest and say, “I had to learn from from that mistake.”
Um, let them know about the harms but also let them know that if used sensibly it is part of our culture people can enjoy a glass of wine or a glass of beer or a shot of whiskey or whatever the preferred tickle may be. Equally that you can enjoy yourself without having alcohol. So it’s that total message that matters.
Alright, so to sum up, I think there will always be different opinions on this. An absolute prohibitionist approach and a very legalistic approach unfortunately is not going to work in every circumstance. If it did there would be no underage drinking and I think the facts tell us otherwise. So you need to have a conversation with your child that’s age specific and that evolves as they get older. You need to be there to support them. You also need to understand that they may “stub their toe” at some stage and you need to do things that work for you and your child.
Keep it sensible. Keep it real. Make them aware of the dangers but don’t fill their heads with unnecessary fears and teach them, a bit like we teach them to use a knife and fork, we teach our children them to drive, they learn how to cross the street. They also learn how to use alcohol responsibly.