Alcohol and children: how should parents model responsible drinking?

drinks bottlesChildren will form opinions about alcohol based on the attitudes their parents have to drinking.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found, unsurprisingly, that parents are role models for their kids — whether they accept that or not — and their actions speak volumes to a child’s development, Made for Mums reports.

Certain sections of the press will publish sensationalist headlines along the lines of “kids become alcoholics when parents drink.” In reality, this is complete nonsense.

Parents have a crucial and active role in teaching their children what’s acceptable, and much of this comes from their actions rather than simply their words. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it with kids, and rightly so (in my opinion).

Mums and dads who get blind drunk in front of their kids, or when they are responsible for them, on a regular basis are asking for trouble. Forget the role model issue for a moment; parents with a responsibility particularly for young children should not be getting drunk at all.

The research goes on to suggest that if a child tastes alcohol at age six it will have a negative effect on their future drinking habits. In other words, drinking from an early age leads to binge drinking later on.

I’m not wholly convinced by this argument. My parents brought me up to have a healthy attitude to alcohol. I remember being allowed to take a sip from my dad’s glass of lager at the weekend from quite a young age. I didn’t drink alone, and I wasn’t allowed to have glasses of wine or beer at home until mid-teens. I’m certainly not dependent on alcohol now, and I don’t binge drink. I know of plenty of other people who have had similar experiences.

Programme manager for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Claire Turner, said that, “parents can have more influence on their teenagers’ behaviour than perhaps many assumed. Both what parents say, and how they behave, have a strong impact on their teenagers’ drinking, drinking regularly, and drinking to excess. Being introduced to alcohol at a very young age – for example, under 10 years old – makes it more likely that they will drink and drink to excess as teenagers.”

I’m not going to be so bold as to suggest that there’s no causal link, because I’m certain there is.

The key to a child developing a healthy attitude to alcohol is for parents to educate as well as model good behaviour. Peer pressure will always have some effect but not all teenagers are going to sneak off in order to get drunk on a regular basis.

It’s also important to ensure that alcohol consumption in the home is monitored. Alcohol shouldn’t be accessible by children or consumed unattended.

What do you think? Is the survey causing an overreaction? How do you educate your kids about alcohol?