Talking about alcohol - Balance

Talking to
your child
about alcohol

Why it’s good to talk to your child.

There are all sorts of tricky subjects which parents think about when it comes to their children. Most of us think it’s important to talk to them about smoking, drugs and sex.

The fact is that alcohol can influence their decision making about all these things.

Drinking alcohol can stop young people reaching their full potential 1. But how many of us talk to our children about the risks of alcohol?

Children start to learn about the effects of alcohol when they’re in primary school. It’s better to tackle the subject, rather than waiting until they’re experimenting with drinking, or getting their messages from the many alcohol adverts they will see.

Mum and son washing the dishes

Tips to help you talk about alcohol.

Children are likely to start asking questions from a young age, especially if you drink at home.

Find out what they know. Don’t make it a taboo subject, but explain that their bodies are too young to drink alcohol and that it is for adults.

You can be honest and explain why some people drink but also explain the risks. The best advice is to make sure you’ve spoken to your child about the dangers of drinking before they start secondary school. Visit our Risks page for the facts.

Talking about alcohol is important. A good time to chat might be when alcohol crops up on the TV. Talking openly, listening to your child, setting rules and explaining why it’s important to wait until they are older and drink as little as possible 2.

Alcohol is harmful and the risks are greater for young people than they are for adults because their bodies and brains are not fully developed.

Drinking alcohol can have an impact on brain development, it can affect liver, bones, hormones and growth and it can increase the risk of them being involved in violence and accidents 3. The result can be serious injury and even death.

Have a look at the risks to find out more.

A warm and open approach to your children with clear rules and boundaries helps parents to talk about the tricky stuff. For example, if you don’t want them to drink, let them know.

You could also ask them where they’re going, who they’re with and agree a time for them to come home.

When we are firm and fair and able to explain why there are rules in place our children are more likely to take notice of what we say. And it’s worth remembering, 87% of 11-15 year olds in a North East survey didn’t drink if their parents asked them not to 4.

Many of us like to think our children wouldn’t drink without our knowledge, but some do. Just think back to what you kept secret from your parents!

Look out for signs that your child might be drinking secretly or having problems with alcohol. Make sure you know where they are, who they are with and that they know what time they need to be home.

If they have been drinking find a quiet time to talk to them about it calmly, let them tell you what happened and explain why you are concerned and what the risks are.

If you are concerned when they have been drinking seek medical attention.

Take some time out to talk

A helpful guide for parents

As parents you have more influence than you think. You can help your children to avoid alcohol harms by:

  • learning about alcohol risks for young people,
  • understanding the myths,
  • talking to your children about alcohol,
  • agreeing rules,
  • being good role models.

Advice from England’s Chief Medical Officer

The advice from England’s Chief Medical Officer is that ‘Children and their parents and carers are advised that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. However, if children drink alcohol it should not be until at least the age of 15 years’.

Find out more about the 5 key recommendations in our article Guidance on the Consumption of Alcohol by Children and Young People.

  1. CMO for England (2009) Guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people.
  2. CMO for England (2009) Guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people
  3. CMO for England (2009) Guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people
  4. Balance (2016) Children and Young People’s Perceptions Survey