With lockdown easing and concerns about alcohol-related disorder and social distancing, parents are being asked to think about the risks to teenagers from drinking this summer.
Most of the alcohol consumed by children comes from the family home. Now police, fire and rescue and local authorities have joined Balance in asking parents to think twice about providing children with drinks.
It follows media coverage and warnings around the country about youths gathering in parks, neighbourhoods and beaches, drinking alcohol and using other substances like nitrous oxide.
Chief Medical Officer advice states that it is healthiest and safest for children not to drink before 18 and if they do drink, it should definitely not be before 15.
It is illegal for shops to sell alcohol to children or to buy for anyone under 18. However, most alcohol consumed by children comes from the family home[i] and parents may unknowingly be undermining the law, risking health and fuelling anti-social behaviour by supplying it.
Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “It is clear that the easing of lockdown has brought with it a release for our teenagers – many of whom would still now be at school. The problem is that adding alcohol can create a potentially dangerous mix.
“We have seen reports of teenagers gathering and the signs of boisterous nights out with cans, bottles and even cannisters of nitrous oxide. Social distancing can also go out of the window after a few drinks.”
He said: “Nobody wants to think their child might be the one getting drunk, taking risks, having an accident or getting into a situation they can’t handle. So we are urging parents to think twice about supplying alcohol and undermining over 18 laws which exist to protect our children.
“The fact is that most of the alcohol which children drink comes from the family home. There is a myth that it makes them less curious – however it is more likely to give the green light to regular drinking and all the risks that come with it.
“For their safety and their long-term health, the longer parents can delay that the better. Too many children are ending up in hospital, in A&E or with real problems in their lives because of alcohol.”
No parent likes to think of their child being out under the influence of alcohol. But the figures are stark:
- Around 1 in 10 pupils (11%) aged 11-15 in the North East have drank alcohol in the last week.
- Around 1 in 10 had been drunk in the previous four weeks – an estimated 12,200 pupils in the North East.
- The most common adverse consequence reported was feeling ill or sick (40%) and 23% had vomited.
- Pupils who lived with people who drank alcohol were more likely to drink alcohol themselves.
Inspector Donald Wade, of Northumbria Police, said: “The overwhelming majority of young people are an absolute credit to themselves and the communities where they live. However, we know that alcohol can be a factor in drawing under-age teenagers into anti-social behaviour which can have a corrosive impact on their local area.
“We are committed to educating young people about the dangers of drinking alcohol and our neighbourhood teams continue to patrol hotpots to safeguard those taking part in underage drinking. We would always encourage parents and carers to make sure they know where their children are going and what they are up to.
“During lockdown, we have seen an increase in the number of some reported crimes including anti-social behaviour, with a significant proportion of those incidents referring to suspected breaches of Covid-19 regulations which have been reported to us by members of the public.
“We all have a responsibility to respect our communities and our fellow citizens and we must not undermine everything we have sacrificed during lockdown.”
Sunderland City Council Cabinet Member for Healthy City, Dr Geoffrey Walker, said: “With the summer holidays starting campaigns like this are really important to help parents and carers understand the facts around young people and alcohol.
“Alcohol can be harmful at any age, but it is particularly harmful for young people. It’s not always easy for parents and carers to know what to do for the best but I would urge everyone to take a look at the What’s the Harm website and use this information when talking to your children about alcohol.”
Councillor Tracey Dixon, Deputy Leader with responsibility for Independence and Wellbeing for South Tyneside Council, said: “We appreciate that the lockdown has been particularly hard for our young people.
“While it is good news that lockdown is easing it is important to stress that the guidance around social distancing and handwashing applies to every single one of us if we are to contain the spread of the virus.
“We all know that when alcohol comes into play, common sense very often is forgotten about. With that in mind, I would encourage parents to restrict access to alcohol to under-18s, especially when they are meeting up with friends outdoors. This is particularly important if young people are gathering at areas such as clifftops or near water.
“Sadly, we have seen some instances of anti-social behaviour from a tiny minority of young people in recent weeks which can have a negative impact on our communities. We have also found some empty cartridges of nitrous oxide around South Shields and Whitburn which can be fatal, especially if taken with alcohol.
“We know alcohol affects children during their development, impairs their judgement and promotes risk-taking behaviour. In line with our aim of giving all our young people the best start in life and an alcohol free childhood, I would encourage parents to help their children stay healthy by discouraging the consumption of any alcohol before the age of 18 and avoid drinking around them.”
Sue Carty, Director of Corporate and Commercial Services at Together for Children, said: “The Together for Children’s Youth Drug and Alcohol Project has been busy working with young people over the last few months, many of whom will have missed seeing their friends or not been able to go to cancelled school prom events, and there is a concern that this could lead to increased street based drinking and anti-social behaviour.
“One source of alcohol for young people is their parents, who should feel confident to talk to their children about the impact of alcohol, and say no to requests for alcohol purchases. That’s why campaigns like this are so important to help parents understand the facts and the myths around alcohol and young people.”
Ian Warne, Head of Prevention and Education at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service: “Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and increases your confidence, which can lead to people of all ages putting themselves in danger. We’ve seen too many examples recently of young people tombstoning and swimming in open water after drinking.
Drinking also affects your co-ordination, which could mean you end up in the water even if you don’t intend to. Around a third of accidental drownings involve drugs or alcohol – so put simply, if your teenagers are meeting friends near the water, drinking could be deadly.”
[i] Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England 2018