Are we at risk as a society of teaching our kids that the meaning of Christmas is alcohol?
With Christmas nearly upon us, North East parents may be wondering; what is the right thing to do in the home when it comes to alcohol and our children?
We know alcohol can be harmful at any age – however a new study in the British Medical Journal (opens PDF) is food for thought for parents. It identifies later adolesence (15-19) as one of the ages where people are at the greatest risk from alcohol’s harms to the brain and states “drinking in adolescence is associated with reduced neocortical volume and functional connectivity, reduced white matter development, and deficits in a wide range of cognitive functions.”
Put simply, alcohol can harm the teenage brain – and it’s not just in the younger years. This at a time when school, college and jobs are so vital to their futures. We also know that giving children a drink can give them a taste for it – and can bring closer the day when they want to drink more.
Christmas is a time for families, but in the last 20 years it does feel like alcohol has taken over Christmas in a way we didn’t see in the past.
Although it might seem like a harmless sip of a festive tipple, the evidence shows that children are more likely to become heavier drinkers as adults if they start drinking at a younger age. It could, in fact, be giving children a taste for booze.
Our plea to parents is not to believe the myth that it is best to provide alcohol to under 18s at home in order to teach them to drink ‘responsibly’, and not to use Christmas occasions as a reason to introduce children to alcohol.
Many parents are unaware of the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance on drinking in childhood, but the advice is clear: it is healthiest and best for children not to drink before the age of 18 – and certainly never before they turn 15. That means the very best for our children is to be alcohol free as long as possible – and let’s remember the vast majority of children do not drink.
The other side of Christmas is our own behaviour when we drink and as parents, we can be positive role models. Nobody wants to give their children the message that Christmas is about drinking to excess, but we just need to be careful. Seeing parents drunk can make our children feel anxious, upset and unsafe, and the festive celebrations often mean children are more exposed to it.
Through our What’s the Harm campaign, Balance has communicated with parents about helping their children have the best start in life when it comes to alcohol. We’re seeing some positive change in attitudes among parents – six out of 10 parents who saw the campaign said it made them twice about allowing children to have alcohol in the future and over 1 in 10 (12%) actually stopped drinking in front of their children.
Alcohol increases the risk of accidents and injuries and can damage a child’s developing brain, liver, bones and hormones, as well as affecting their mood, mental and health and risking them falling behind at school. But that first drink gives a clear message – it gives a green light to alcohol which can then become something that is harder to put back in its box in the New Year.
It is positive that more parents are recognising the risks associated with alcohol and childhood. And more young people today are choosing not to drink and as parents we have an opportunity to encourage this.
Parents can visit www.whatstheharm.co.uk to find out the facts and the myths about children and alcohol
By Colin Shevills – Director of Balance