This article was contributed by Drinkaware

Drinkaware works to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK. The charity provides people with evidence-based information about alcohol and work with the medical community, third sector organisations, government and the drinks industry to achieve its goals.

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Underage drinking: how big an issue is alcohol for teens?

Alcohol and teens

Photo: Shay 

Children and alcohol: a parent's guide from Anna Bullock of Drinkaware

Young people see alcohol and drinking all around them: on television, in magazines, on social media – and all of these can spread images and ideas that can be incitements to act irresponsibly. 

The trick is to nudge teenagers into learning from the good and being resistant to the harmful.

A useful exercise is to spend a day totting up how many times you see drink on television, in newspapers and magazines and on social media. It'll help you gain an insight into the messages they’re receiving.

Parental influence is greater than you think

Many of the toys young children play with are things that mimicked what they saw mum and dad doing – shopping, cooking or cleaning, feeding dolls or fixing cars. As they grow older, if you come home and say “Oh, I could do with a drink!” you may be setting the example that alcohol is something grownups need. 

Why do young people drink?

  • To ‘prove’ they're grown up.
  • To copy adults, including their parents.
  • Because risky behaviour is higher in puberty.
  • To be like their friends.
  • To be like their older siblings.
  • Because alcohol is everywhere and relatively easy to get hold of.
  • To test rules, boundaries and their limits.
  • Because they see it as pleasurable.

What are the risks?

These include:

  • Alcohol poisoning.
  • Accidents and injuries.
  • Side effects, including weight gain or weight loss, bad skin, disturbed sleep, headaches. 
  • Unprotected sex.
  • Drug use.
  • Brain development – effects on memory function, reactions, learning ability and attention span.
  • Mental health – may exacerbate problems.
  • Education and truancy - children who start to drink by age 13 are more likely to go on to have worse grades, to skip school and, in the worst case scenario, to be excluded from school.
  • Aggression, violence.
  • Vulnerability – eg: walking home alone at night.
  • Liver damage.

What influence can you have? 

More than you may think! Teenagers may well pull away and make friends their focus, but what you think and feel about them remains central to their lives.

‘If you don’t talk to your child about alcohol, someone else will’

They still need your approval and love, however disdainful they may seem.

It’s important to remember that if you don’t talk to your child about alcohol, someone else will. There are plenty of people out there who will answer their questions about alcohol. The problem is that they may be friends who have as confused and inaccurate an idea as they do. 

Children can easily get the wrong information about alcohol, as the video below suggests.

Saying nothing or evading the issue does not mean the questions go away, just that they go elsewhere. 

Further reading

See our tips for talking to your child about alcohol. For more reasons to have the chat, go to the Drinkaware site.

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: May 2018

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