My colleagues and I joined local parents and their children in ‘Learning Together Through Play’ sessions during Alcohol Awareness Week 2018 and we facilitated informal discussions within the groups. Conversations focused on the harms to children from drinking alcohol under the age of 18 and also addressed the campaign from a slightly different angle – what message do we send to our children when we drink openly in front of them?
Parents spoke openly and were engaged although responses were mixed. Below are some of the frequent phrases we heard.
“I grew up around drinking and I drank from 13, I’m ok”
There was a common theme that what was good for us is good for our children. We encouraged some of the parents to think about the new knowledge around the harms of alcohol that we now know but our parents didn’t have the benefit of. We asked if this information would change how we raise our kids?
“It’s almost impossible to shield children from the effects of alcohol – I can keep them away from it in the house, but when we go out it’s there.”
Many parents talked about the practicality of keeping the house an alcohol free zone when the outside world was filled with alcohol. How much good can we do when the shops have alcohol displayed at the end of almost every aisle, particularly at this time of year?
“As a foster carer, I’ve seen some of the devastating results alcohol can have, so I absolutely think this is a great message to promote.”
A powerful discussion arose from one of the group members, who works as a foster carer in Northumberland. She was open about the effects of alcohol she had seen on families and children and gave all of us some food for thought.
“I don’t really drink any more, I used to but I’ve had that time and now I have kids, I just have different priorities.”
A positive message from many parents – alcohol isn’t fun anymore; it’s not how they choose to spend their time or money. We discussed how we can make it “less fun” for our children as they grow older, so it’s not appealing and how we can encourage children to remain alcohol-free.
We have split opinions in our parent population: some who feel that alcohol isn’t an issue for children (despite evidence to the contrary) and those parents who understand the risks to themselves and their little ones. In both cases, the adult’s own experiences played a big part in their choices as a parent.
The main message from the group is that this campaign reaches far wider than educating parents and supporting them to have conversations with their children. It’s about getting communities and groups on board to create the environment we need to allow our children to be free from alcohol-based harms everywhere they go.
Rebecca Brown, Public Health team Northumberland