Parents urged to help curb teenage drinking in new health campaign

Colin Shevills
Colin Shevills

Parents are being urged to help curb youth boozing and delay when teenagers are introduced to drink.

Parents are being warned about the risks to their children from alcohol as part of Alcohol Awareness Week encourages them to delay the moment when their child first starts to drink.

It comes as new figures suggest parenting tactics aimed at creating a safer relationship with alcohol and introducing drinking at a younger age could actually be giving our children a taste for booze.

Alcohol campaign group Balance is launching the What’s the Harm campaign in Alcohol Awareness Week, this week, to raise awareness of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) guidance that an alcohol free childhood up to 18 is the healthiest and best option, and that if children do drink this should not be before age 15.

Many parents know drinking increases the risks of accidents, injuries, smoking and drug taking.

But many are less aware of the damage alcohol can do to children’s developing brains, liver, bones and hormones, affecting their mood, their mental health and risking them falling behind at school.

A new survey of North East parents shows nearly 8/10 (78%) would first talk to their children about alcohol before the age of 15, but almost half (43%) think children should have their first taste of alcohol before 15 – despite evidence showing children who start drinking at an early age are more likely to become heavy drinkers when they’re older.

Parents are encouraged to visit www.whatstheharm.co.uk to find out about the facts and the myths about children and alcohol, and how best to have a conversation about alcohol with their child.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “Parents have a right to know about all of the alcohol harms which children face if they drink. Every parent wants the best for their child and we know it can be hard knowing what is the right thing to do around alcohol.

"However, we know from speaking to North East parents there’s a myth that providing alcohol at a young age makes children less curious, when in fact it can be a trigger for drinking. People mention the French way of giving children alcohol - but France actually has twice the rate of alcohol dependence than the UK.

“We found that a lot of parents were not aware of official guidance around children, and were more likely to call on their own experiences growing up when making decisions about alcohol.

“It is also interesting that fewer children are drinking regularly than they did 15 years ago, which we hope will empower more parents not to provide it if they are pressured to. But it is very worrying that those children who do drink regularly are drinking the equivalent of 9 shots of vodka a week – too many children are on the path to becoming dependent drinkers.”

The facts:

* 9/10 children aged 11-15 do not drink regularly;

* For 11-15 year olds who regularly drink, the average weekly consumption is the equivalent of 9 vodkas a week;

* Young people who drink regularly are 4 times more likely to smoke and 3 times more likely to take illegal drugs;

* Only 1 in 20 teenagers aged 16-17 are now regularly binge drinking compared to almost 1 in 3 in 2002;

* Parents and carers are the number one source of alcohol for children – for 70% of 11-15 year olds who drink;

* Children whose parents allow them to drink are 4 times more likely to be a risky drinker;

* Three-quarters of 14-15 year olds whose parents do not allow them to drink choose not to;

* Only 7% of parents think it is acceptable for children to drink at home unsupervised before the age of 15, and only 16% think it is acceptable for children under 17 to drink alcohol unsupervised at a friend’s house.