The teenage years are difficult for any parent to navigate. This is especially true when it comes to acknowledging that your child is swiftly on their way to becoming an adult, and as a result, they are likely to become interested in more mature activities, like drinking alcohol. This calls for some challenging conversations to ensure their safety.
Because teenagers are underage and cannot legally purchase alcohol before the age of 18 in the UK, it can be tempting for parents to take an ‘abstinence only’ approach when it comes to discussing drinking. However, this is unlikely to actually curb drinking behavior in those that are underage. In fact, most people will have experienced alcohol prior to turning 18.
It’s also important to acknowledge the close proximity teenagers are to the legal drinking world. Many have slightly older friends who are 18 or close to turning 18, which means your underage teen may have someone ready to purchase alcohol for them. Likewise, your teen will be of age faster than you know it. If they become 18 with little prior knowledge of alcohol responsibility, they may be more likely to binge drink. A survey conducted in 2018 revealed that over 32 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 had consumed alcohol within the previous three months.
It’s always best to start with going over the basic laws of alcohol purchase and consumption in the UK. Here, it is illegal for anyone under 18 to buy alcohol or ask someone else to buy it for them. It is also illegal to give a child alcohol in any setting if they are under five years of age. People over 18 can, however, buy alcohol (beer, wine, or cider) for 16- or 17-year-olds at licensed establishments and people ages five to 17 can drink alcohol at home.
By helping your teen understand that alcohol does come with risks but is generally okay in moderation, you will help prepare them for making responsible choices. It’s a good idea to discuss legal drinking limits for driving and BAC. BAC or Blood Alcohol Content is a measurement of alcohol in the bloodstream. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the driving alcohol limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
It’s also useful to share some drunk driving statistics so your teen knows the risk. For instance, between 7,000 and 8,000 people are estimated to be injured or killed in these accidents in the UK every year.
In order to be most effective when talking to your teen about alcohol responsibility, be sure to focus more on actual facts and useful health information (rather than using fear tactics and focusing on the legality of the situation). Chances are, your teenager is already well aware that drunk driving is real and that people can get alcohol poisoning. Obviously, you should still discuss these things, but you can strengthen your point by giving them information that they may not already know.
The detrimental effects of drinking too much alcohol are clear, but many people do not realize all of the more nuanced ways alcohol can affect the body. For example, the sugars in alcohol can dramatically increase the likelihood of cavities and other oral issues (things that are already at risk because of the amount of sugar and processed food in the average diet). While you’re letting your teen know this, you may also want to let them know that a shocking 92 percent of adults have suffered from cavities, and many will develop more serious oral illnesses over time.
Conclude the conversation by letting your teenager know that you are always there for them if they have any questions about alcohol. Remind them that you care more about their health and safety than anything, and so they can always come to you if they want to talk about drinking. Likewise, remind them that it’s okay to call you if they need a ride home from anywhere.
While teenagers will be teenagers and may not react positively to everything you have to say, taking these steps will help strengthen your relationship with them and empower them to make positive decisions going forward.
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