Teenagers, Alcohol and Safety
We all want to do what is best for our children. Sometimes the decisions we make as parents are very easy – like the fact they have to brush their teeth each day – but sometimes the health advice about what is best for our children is confusing which makes our job as parents a bit more difficult.
One of the most difficult decisions is whether to allow our children to drink alcohol and, if so, when. To help us with this, the Chief Medical Officer for England provided advice for parents and carers about teenagers under 18 drinking alcohol. This was based on lots of research giving us hard evidence about the effect that alcohol has on the safety and health of young people. He provided the following guidance:
- An alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.
- If children do drink alcohol, they shouldn’t do so until they are at least 15 years old.
- Drinking alcohol can damage a child’s health, even if they are 15 or older.
- If young people aged 15 to 17 drink alcohol, they should always be supervised by a parent or carer.
- If 15-17 year olds drink alcohol, it should be rarely and never more than once a week.
- If 15 to 17 year olds drink alcohol, they should never exceed the recommended adult weekly limit (no more than14 units for both men and women).
So, what are the risks? Why is an alcohol free childhood the healthiest and best option?
- Forming bad habits
- Children who start drinking before the age of 15 are more likely to have longer term problems. Research shows that people who start drinking at an early age are more likely to develop heavier drinking habits, carrying on through adulthood.
- Risks while under the influence of alcohol
- These can be problems that occur while they are drunk e.g. injuries from falling over, road traffic accidents and assaults.
- Drinking large amounts can also cause people to become unconscious and in a few cases can be fatal.
- Alcohol also affects a person’s ability to make decisions and think about consequences, so they are more likely to take bigger risks, such as having unplanned, unprotected sex, which they later regret.
- Lifelong risks to their bodies
- Drinking alcohol causes harm to our bodies, including the brain, liver, bones, heart and digestive system. This can cause serious health problems. Because children and teenagers’ organs are less mature than adults’ the damage can be far greater.
- During adolescence important changes take place in the brain as the young person changes physically and mentally from a child into an adult. Drinking alcohol at this stage can interfere with this change, affecting things like memory, thinking and motivation and this can last throughout adulthood.
- It can also cause problems that take longer to develop like liver disease, heart disease and many types of cancer.
You can help your children to delay drinking by talking to them about the risks, letting them know about your concerns, setting limits, agreeing boundaries and offering advice.