Getting the children used to drink talk


Issue safe drinking messages in the early years

A SURVEY carried out in 2006 and reported on as The State of the Nation’s Children at the end of 2008 showed that 29 per cent of Irish 15 year olds admitted to being drunk within the previous month. This is the third-highest rate in Europe. Some other research that was done shows that even by the age of five years most children will have formed basic attitudes and opinions about alcohol.

The influences for our teenagers’ use of alcohol are not, primarily, their friends. It is much more likely that they are influenced by television, advertising, their family and even the broader community.

Teenagers will use their own experiences with alcohol and their observations of its effects on family, friends and in the community to draw their own conclusions about how to use or abuse alcohol.

However, a statistic that I found most interesting is that those teenagers who first drink before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependency than those who wait until they are 21 to start drinking. Those same early drinkers are seven times more likely to be in a car crash where alcohol is involved.

This means that we, as parents, are well advised to try to delay the onset of our teenagers’ drinking for as long as possible. You will notice that inherent in that comment is my acceptance that within the Irish culture as it stands it is almost inevitable that our teenagers will drink alcohol.

I have set out some ideas for how you can minimise the likelihood of your teenager drinking early.

Talk about alcohol:Talk about alcohol openly and knowledgably. Know the facts. Begin talking about alcohol and drinking from when they are small. Always try to maintain a calm and matter-of-fact approach to topic. If you talk about things in this way, you are much more likely to hear what your teenager’s views about alcohol and drinking are. They will have had their own experiences, picked up their own stories and have their own views on the subject.

Be aware of your teenager’s whereabouts:You need to try to have an awareness of where they are and what they are doing. If your teenager is going to a friend’s house, it always makes sense to talk to the friend’s parent. Be explicit about any concerns you have about drinking and see what views or plans that parent has to try to minimise the risk (ideally regular supervision!).

If they are out at night, have a plan formulated with them about how they will be getting home. Do you know who they are actually going to be out with? Have you discussed their safety and your concerns and expectations around alcohol?

Role-model responsible drinking:Stories about wild nights and cruel hangovers become the lore and legend in some families. Having a higher tolerance to alcohol, before getting drunk, is still perceived, in Ireland, as an emblem of status.

Sometimes we are careful with the stories we tell about our own or other’s drinking. Sometimes, however, we present tales of irrational and irresponsible behaviour, associated with being drunk, which minimise personal responsibility and give a clear message that “sure when you’re drunk it isn’t your fault”. If you realise that your teenager is drinking, and that actually your power to prevent them is limited, you might want to change your tack, in terms of influence. Rather than preaching an abstinence message you can shift it to a safe drinking message that includes these kinds of points:

Drink slowly so that your body has a chance to metabolise the alcohol.

Count how much you drink so that you can stay within your tolerances.

Eat before drinking to delay or reduce the drunkenness.

Drink water as a spacer between alcoholic drinks.

Don’t drink alone, be in safe company.

Don’t leave your friends who are drinking, or are drunk, alone.

David Coleman’s new series of Teens in the Wild is on RTÉ 1 on Monday nights at 9.30pm