Alcohol and your child

All of us who look after children, in whatever role, like to try and do our best for them. But sometimes we’re not totally sure what the best thing to do is.

Such uncertainty may cause us to:

  • Feel ill-informed, or overinformed – overwhelmed by a flood of conflicting information
  • Receive conflicting advice about the best approach, and feel under pressure from more than one direction
  • Feel guilty and judged if we don’t manage to do what others expect of us.

What does the law say?

It is not illegal for a child aged between five and 16 to consume alcohol at home or on other private premises.

  • 16 and 17 year olds can also legally consume beer, wine or cider bought by someone over 18 if they are eating a meal together in licensed premises
  • The police can stop, fine or arrest anyone under 18 who is drinking in public

What is the official advice?

Since 2009, the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (the top doctors) have said that:

  • An alcohol-free childhood is the ‘healthiest and best option’, and that if children do drink alcohol, they should not do so until they are at least 15 years old
  • There is no particular reason for young people to start drinking alcohol before the age of 18, but if 15 to 17 year olds do drink alcohol, it should be:
    • rarely, and never more than once a week
    • always be supervised by a parent or carer
    • consumed moderately, and they should never be allowed to become drunk

What is the best approach?

Whilst some parents may seek to discourage their children from ever starting drinking, others believe that some degree of alcohol consumption in adulthood is inevitable and needs to be prepared for.

There is no clear answer as to which approach is best but, overall, there is little evidence that letting children try alcohol makes them less likely to develop problems with it later on. In fact, research has found that children, whose parents allow them to drink at home and/or provide them with alcohol, are probably more likely to drink more heavily when they are older.

Children's attitudes to drinking will be shaped by your own and will be formed relatively early on. While it might be easier said than done, it really is crucial to try to set a good example. This means keeping an eye on the number of units you're drinking, as well as having a few alcohol-free days each week.

It's not just what or how much you're drinking – it's about what children associate alcohol with, such as emotions and occasions. Let children know (and remember that actions speak louder than words) that alcohol isn't needed to have fun and is not a solution to a problem. This should help prevent them from relating alcohol to feeling sad or stressed and will also help them build their confidence to say no if they're ever under pressure to drink.

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