How can we help young people make healthier lifestyle choices? - Balance

Real Life

21 May 2021

How can we help young people make healthier lifestyle choices?

Melanie Soutar, manages the Matrix Young People’s Drug and Alcohol Service in South Tyneside. The service works with young people under the age of 18yrs.

Melanie said “Children and young people have had the most difficult year of their lives; education, hobbies and friendships have been disrupted. The teenage years are a time when there are immense emotional challenges anyway and drinking alcohol at an early age can exacerbate a lot of anxieties, motivation and emotional difficulties.

“Many young people we work with get into difficult and sometimes dangerous situations due to excessive use of alcohol and the subsequent health and social implications arising from intoxication are extremely worrying.

“As a society we tend to minimise the dangers of alcohol and many assume that it is a natural pastime for young people and a rite of passage. However, we are underestimating the damage that alcohol is doing to our children and young people whilst breeding unhealthy habits for the future.

“Aside from the obvious medical and developmental concerns, alcohol makes young people hugely vulnerable not only to inhibited risky behaviours but also to those who exploit them.

“The findings of the Balance survey are worrying and reinforce what we see…that when young people under 18 consume alcohol, it is often to excess and with the aim of getting drunk. Parents might think providing a couple of alcoholic drinks might help them to drink responsibly, but the reality is that children and young people will often mix and share alcohol which is a concern.

“Parents need to be aware of the potential consequences of a young person getting intoxicated. It can mean a child being taken home by the police or to A&E, often finding themselves in unsafe situations”. We appreciate the difficulties parents can have with teens in particular, and urge them if worried to seek support from services like Matrix.”

She added: “To an extent young people copy the society they see, and if they see alcohol in the home, on social media and in advertising it is of no surprise they may grow up thinking of excessive use as normal. We need to challenge the notion that most young people drink, because they do not; and stop trying to promote ‘responsible drinking.’ To them as they are still developing.

“When it comes to working with young people, the best thing we can do with young people is to build resilience and esteem: to not think drinking alcohol is the normal or inevitable thing to do, and to support them in making healthier lifestyle choices to prevent poor outcomes ensuring our children and young people have the best start in life.”

"As a society we tend to minimise the dangers of alcohol and many assume that it is a natural pastime for young people and a rite of passage. However, we are underestimating the damage that alcohol is doing to our children and young people whilst breeding unhealthy habits for the future."