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Alcohol and Your Teenager

Alcohol is considered socially acceptable as long as it is drunk moderately but it can cause mixed messages being communicated to our young people. We tell our children drinking is bad for them but they then see us consuming alcohol and sometimes too much at social occasions. What do you do if you discover your child is drinking excessively? What do you say without seeming hypocritical or risk your children losing their trust in you?

Many children have their first sip of an alcoholic drink at around twelve years old, often with their parents. Boys in particular see drinking as a sign of maturity and independence. Adolescent drinking at around fourteen to fifteen years of age can become more secretive so often hidden from parents. By the time they have got to seventeen years old they often regard themselves as responsible drinkers and do not usually hide what they are doing.

Research shows that parents’ attitudes are more influential than they sometimes realize. It has been discovered that parents who are more permissive about drinking are more likely to have children who drink than those parents who are more disapproving and set boundaries.

Any age group can be affected by alcohol abuse but young people are at more risk because they are still growing and their brains are still developing. Young people usually need far less alcohol to produce the same effects seen in adults so they are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior like violence or unsafe sex. Even light drinking can cause a young person’s growing brain short and long term damage. The long term effects could be cancer, liver disease or high blood pressure.

Some research has shown that children who begin to drink at a very early age are more likely to develop alcohol problems later in life. As a parent you need to be realistic. A total ban of your children drinking could lead to them behaving secretively. It is best to teach your children the realities of drinking alcohol and the dangers it can pose. Building your child’s self esteem by praising them and encouraging open communication can strengthen your relationship with them so they are more likely to listen to you and come to you for advice. If you are worried that your child is drinking excessively or secretly try talking to them and sometimes it is advisable to get professional advice from your doctor or local support group.

The following are tips for parents of young people:

  • Start by being a good role model. Your attitude towards drinking is more influential than your child’s peers
  • Begin to teach your child the risks of alcohol when they are young. Have discussions with them about peer pressure and also the reasons good and bad, as to why people drink
  • If your child is drinking think about why this is happening. Are there any underlying problems going on such as low self-esteem, bullying at school or family issues?
  • If you discover your child is drunk when they get home just encourage them to get to bed and wait until the next day to have a talk with them
  • Try and find a calm time of day to talk to them about their excessive drinking. Be open when you chat about the effects of alcohol and encourage them to be honest with you about their behaviour and discuss peer pressure
  • Keep talking to your children about sensible drinking and how they can pace themselves by eating a substantial meal before going out, by having soft drinks between alcoholic drinks
  • Ensure that you have educated your child about how alcohol can impair peoples’ judgements and how many people catch STDs and have unwanted pregnancies due to unprotected sex because of being drunk
  • Talk about the dangers of drink driving and always have a plan and a back-up plan of how to get home safely
  • Keep telling your child that you love them and that no matter how angry or disappointed you may be you are always there for them. Try and make them feel that they can always call you no matter what. They are then more likely to contact you if they are in danger or someone else has got hurt

By Eirian Hallinan

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