Who else remembers raiding their parents’ drinks trolley as a young teenager? I did.
I must have been around 13 or 14 years old. It seemed like such a good idea at the time and that bottle of Campari looked so appealing, just like yummy blackberry juice. I couldn’t resist. It is easy to predict how this story ends. I was horridly unwell. I don’t think I was sick on the carpet but it almost happened a number of times. My best friend was also very worse for wear. When my mother saw sick on her stone floor, we told her we had dropped a cup of coffee. I very much doubt she believed that one.
My parents were very understanding and no one wants to be terribly told off when you are already feeling so unwell. Ashamed with yourself as you lay there with vomit in your hair.
There’s lots of debate about whether it’s OK to let teenage children (under 18) to have a small amount of alcohol. Of course, children are naturally curious, so perhaps it is right to have an open conversation about alcohol rather than not discussing it at all.
Campari may be off the drinks menu for now (or not for some), but what does the world look like today when there are no drinks trollies in sight? It’s a worrying fact for many parents that drink has never been cheaper or more available to young people. Figures show a record number of under 11s going to A&E with alcohol-related problems. For parents, these are frightening results.
I was invited onto the Dominic King drive time show yesterday, on BBC Radio Kent to discuss whether it is acceptable to give alcohol to children under 14. This topic not only made me reflect on my own first drinking experiences, but equally, what we can learn from it.
Naturally, when my children become teenagers, I’m sure there will come a time when I am the parent comforting my child as they hurl into a toilet sink. I desperately don’t want to think about that happening, but I’m sure it will.
On average, UK children have their first alcoholic drink at 13 and, by just over 14, hundreds have been drunk for the first time. A survey of 15 and 16 year olds carried out recently by the Drinkaware Trust revealed that 60% regard drinking as a normal part of growing up. Half of all 11 to 15-year-olds have already tried at least one alcoholic drink with their friends. Half of 16 and 17 years olds drink at least once a week.
Earlier this week, thousands of 18-year-old students would have received their A level results and whatever the outcome, parents will be keen to help them celebrate their hard work and achievements. Bottles of bubbly would be open up and down the country. So, can a 14 or 15-year-old sister have a glass of bubbly too, in the home, supervised by a parent? Although it’s not something I would overly encourage, I think this is ‘acceptable’. My point really, is that the toast remains at one glass and that’s it.
So how can we educate teenage children to be drink aware?
1. Have a conversation
Talking is key. Help your children be aware of alcohol and talking to them about it at the dinner table. Studies suggest that teenage heavy drinkers can experience problems with bone density, growth, hormone development and liver function, and the devastating effect of alcohol on the young brain is only now being understood. Explain that alcohol is for adults as it can be damaging for young bodies and brains.
2. Educating our Teenagers
By 16, I think we have to accept that most parties will have some alcohol present, so we should concentrate on talking to our children about safe drinking, eating at the same time, drinking enough water to stay hydrated and getting home safely.
3. Share the Golden Rules
Sometimes we have to think about our own drink consumption and set a good example. If you have teenagers who are 18 and are already drinking, make sure they know the risks. How many times have we, as adults, made that fatal mistake of drinking on an empty stomach? Encourage them to alternate alcohol with soft drinks and to eat a proper meal beforehand.
Make sure they know that if they get into trouble with alcohol they can ring you for help or a lift home, no questions asked. Let them know you will listen and won’t judge them. And finally...always go to bed with a glass of water!
As parent, I am no expert and I will be fumbling my way through these situations just like everyone else. After all, I am just Guilty Mother.
Now...where did I put that bottle of blue nun?...