It’s Christmas. A time to grab some much needed relaxation and hopefully spend some quality time with our families. But amid the celebrations, are we at risk of teaching our kids that the meaning of Christmas is alcohol?
Alcohol is everywhere. Advertising is on our TVs, in our cinemas and on our mobile phones showing sparkly drinks and impossibly glamorous people. Walk into any supermarket right now and the towers of bottles and cans tell you exactly what they want you to put into your trolley first.
So parents may be wondering; what is the right thing to do in the home when it comes to alcohol and our children?
Firstly every parent wants to do the right thing. With alcohol we know there is a myth that if children drink small amounts at a younger age it might take away some of the curiosity, or help them to handle it. But the evidence is now clear this is more likely to give them a taste for it.
Alcohol can be harmful at any age – a study in the British Medical Journal (opens PDF) identifies the years 15-19 as those where people are at the greatest risk from alcohol’s harms to the brain and its development.
This at a time when school, college and jobs are so vital to our children’s futures. We also know that once flexible rules are developed and children get a taste for alcohol, it can be more difficult to establish boundaries again and 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.
We also know from some children and young people that they have felt pressured to have a drink at family occasions when they’re not bothered and would have preferred a cola or a lemonade. 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.
The Chief Medical Officer’s guidance on drinking in childhood 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 thinking about our own actions 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
Susan Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy, Balance