There is no point denying that teenagers and alcohol have long had a close relationship, and you might even take the liberal view that if they are drinking some booze at a party, it is not as bad as them taking drugs.
You only have to look to the Alcohol Recovery Centre and see the work that they do, to realise that there are definitely some serious consequences attached to teen drinking, which is why you have to broach the subject of underage drinking and sensible limits even when they are legal to consume alcohol.
Understanding the scale of the problem
When you consider that it is estimated that almost 80% of children will have had a taste of alcohol by the time they reach their 14th birthday, there is little point in taking the view that you don’t need to have a discussion with your child about the dangers of drinking.
Alcohol is generally the most abused substance amongst U.S teens for example and wherever you happen to be, it seems clear that there is a very high chance that your child is going to be exposed to alcohol before they reach a legal age, which is why you need to address the issue and talk to your children about the subject in detail.
It is generally suggested that you might want to have a discussion with your children from as early as about ten years of age. The threat of exposure to alcohol should not normally be an issue at that age you would hope, but this is the sort of age where a child will often be developing some clear impressions surrounding alcohol consumption.
This makes it a good time to implant the right messages about alcohol consumption, rather than leaving it to a point where they may have already had some exposure, before you get to talk to them about the dangers of drinking excessively.
Lead by example
Many children will understandably take their behavioral cues from their parents, so it is important that you try and convey the right message about alcohol consumption yourself.
Many adolescents tend to state that their primary influence when it comes to whether they drink or not, comes from what attitude their parents have to drink. It is suggested that you don’t encourage or allow underage drinking in your home, and it is also vital to monitor your own drinking habits in front of the children, if you want to have a positive influence on their attitude to drink.
You might think that your children don’t always listen and respond to what you say or do, but it is often the case that although they might even pretend to not be listening to your advice and warnings, they are actually taking the message on board, more often than not.
The relationship between teenagers and alcohol
Alcohol is generally considered socially acceptable in many cultures, whereas the use of drugs is not.
It is this relationship with alcohol and a view held by some drinking is nowhere near as dangerous as taking drugs, that can send out the wrong message to your teenage children.
It is estimated that at least 25% of 11-15 year olds will have had some sort of alcoholic drink within the last week, and children of today are actually considered to be drinking almost twice as much as was the case about ten years ago.
Young boys in particular tend to be attracted to alcohol as they approach their teenage years, as they often consider that by drinking, they’re demonstrating a greater level of maturity and independence.
The issue for parents to consider is that by the time children are between 14 and 15, levels of adolescent drinking tend to become more secretive, meaning that some kids are going to try and hide their drinking habit from their parents.
There are some studies around that strongly suggest one of the major issues surrounding early exposure to alcohol, is that the earlier the child drinks excessively, the more likely they are to develop subsequent problems with drink.
Getting the message across
The problem for parents to consider is that a total ban on alcohol might ultimately result in your child developing risky or secretive behavioural tendencies towards drink.
It seems that it is far better to try and teach your children the harsh realities and dangers of drinking too much alcohol, which you can do by having open communication with them on the subject, and helping them to develop a healthy respect and understanding of the potential dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption.
Elizabeth Fisher is a community care worker who has worked extensively with schools to teach children and young adults about addiction. Her articles reach out to parents, and a wider audience, to discuss drug, alcohol and other addictions our children face today.