Talking about Alcohol


Many parents feel lost and confused when talking to their children about alcohol.  Girls will come across alcohol via their friends, at parties and in their everyday lives as they get older. Children are naturally curious about alcohol – they see people drinking and they want to know more. They will be influenced by their friends, their teachers, TV, films and the media – but in most cases, parents have the biggest effect on their children’s behaviour, including how they drink alcohol. So you’re in a good position to make sure they have the facts about alcohol and drinking, and can make sensible choices in the future. The following guidance has been taken from the Alcohol Education Trust.


Right message for the right age

In the UK 45% of 15 year-olds drink alcohol – fact. However, 99% of 11 year-olds do not – some will have tasted alcohol in the family home or at a celebration, but it is at this age – between 11-13 that their drinking habits for the future will be formed. As a parent you are the most important influence in their lives through: the examples you set, the house rules, the allowance and freedoms you allow them. As your teenagers get older knowing about the law, keeping them safe and setting boundaries are key too. Talking about it early on will help your child to understand alcohol and its effects, and make sensible choices about drinking in the future.

The average age of a first whole drink in the UK is between ages 13 and 14, so it’s important to talk at an early age and for your child to have an understanding of units, how alcohol affects the body and liver, why young bodies can’t cope with alcohol and the risks they run by experimenting. This is why the UK Chief Medical Officers recommend that children under 15 should not drink alcohol, as their brains and livers are not fully developed and are more liable to damage than adults. At age 11 children see it as unacceptable to get drunk, and 99% don’t drink regularly, but age 13 is what can be referred to as  ‘the tipping point’.


Talking about alcohol

Growing up is an awkward time, reaching puberty, their social lives changing, relationships and peer pressure growing – and probably being less open with you. Try not to force the subject, wait until it comes up via the TV, the media or similar. Put a conversation about drinking in context with other ‘life skills’, such as staying safe, talking about drugs etc.  You might think your daughter is too young for all this, but unfortunately they’ll be more informed than you think! A good approach is often to talk about an embarrassing or dangerous situation you, or someone you know, got into when young and the consequences.

Finding the right balance between protecting your child and giving them freedom isn’t easy. You can’t be by their side all the time, and they wouldn’t thank you for it anyway. However, with communication and trust, you can help them to make the right decision in a tricky situation, learn from their mistakes, come to you for advice when needed and still stay safe.

Research shows that older teenagers often experiment with alcohol in the company of their friends, but if their parents have been good and open role models, they are less likely to develop bad habits with respect to alcohol. By age 15 many are drinking regularly, so talking to your kids about sensible drinking guidelines, what a unit is, how to resist peer pressure and what happens to your reactions if you combine drinking and driving for example, is of great importance. As your daughter gets older and spends more time away from the home it is important that you highlight some of the dangers of drunkenness, such as:

  • Not getting home safely, looking a fool in front of their friends and the risk of assault and theft.
  • Encourage them to pace themselves by alternating with soft drinks, to eat before going out and to be aware of the alcohol levels of different drinks.
  • Tell them to keep their mobiles fully charged and with them when going out and to work out how they will get home before they go.

Remind them to never to:

  • Leave their drink as it could be spiked
  • Drink and drive
  • Take a lift from someone they suspect has taken drink or drugs
  • Leave a party or venue on their own at night.

Research shows that the younger a person is when they start to drink regularly, the greater their risk of alcohol-related problem slater in life. By highlighting the short term effects of getting drunk, such as being sexually assaulted or robbed, plus the embarrassment of looking a fool in front of their mates, you can help delay the age that teenagers start drinking and the amount they consume. This is more effective than just saying ‘don’t’.


Ways to delay teenage drinking

  • Encourage sports, hobbies, clubs and social activities that keep your daughter active and fulfilled. Teenagers cite boredom and hanging around with nothing to do as one reason for drinking.
  • Establish routines, like mealtimes, that mean you can spend some time together and to talk to each other. This helps your child to feel they can come to you if they have a problem.
  • Make sure you know the facts and laws about alcohol and can talk in a balanced and constructive way about the pros and cons of drinking. Talk and listen to your daughter. It is important that they hear your views and that you hear theirs.
  • Use everyday opportunities, for example a storyline in a TV programme, as a prompt. Make sure the ground rules are clear, discuss them with all family members, and be clear about what is allowed and not allowed.
  • Have consequences for breaking rules and enforce them such as stopping their allowance or grounding them.
  • If your daughter is going to a party, drop them off and pick them up or book a taxi. Agree the time they will be leaving the party. They will hate it, but always check sleepover and party plans – ring other parents and check who’s in charge.
  • Check where they’re going and who they’re with, and always make sure they’ve got a fully charged mobile with them.
  • Be careful where you leave alcohol in the house. Know how much you have and check it regularly. If you are away for the night it is unfair to your teenagers to leave them in a situation where they have access to a large supply of drink.
  • Supervise parties at home and always serve food.
  • Be careful how invitations and photos are posted on social media sites and ensure that there is adult supervision of parties in friends’ homes.


For further information visit The Alcohol Education Trust to download the parent guide at 


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