Family Health

How to talk to talk to your teen about underage drinking

It’s that time of year again – Junior Cert results night. If you have a transition year teen, there’s a chance you may spend your Saturday morning nursing a hangdog child through a hangover with vats of flat Lucozade, and piles of dry toast.

While you may never understand why they decided to mix Galliano with cider, it is important you know how to react and figure out ways to prevent it happening again.

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Step number one: don’t encourage your child to drink in front of you.

It may sound strange, but many parents believe the best way to prevent their child from excessive drinking is to encourage them to have a glass of wine within the confines of the family home. Around 27pc of Irish teenagers are given their first drink by their parents or a family member.

“There is a myth that if you have your first drink in a home environment you will have a healthier attitude to alcohol,” said Sheena Horgan, head of Drinkaware, which is partly funded by the drink and grocery retail industries. “That’s completely untrue and unfounded.”

Instead of encouraging your child to drink, it’s better to encourage conversation.

“Children and teenagers need rules and boundaries,” Ms Horgan said. “It’s a good idea to involve siblings – that way your 18-year-old will know they should not buy alcohol for their 15-year-old brother. It’s also a good idea to talk to other parents and find out what their boundaries and rules are.”

Other parents may have a more lax attitude and may allow behaviour that would not be tolerated in your home.

It’s also worth remembering for every child who does want to get drunk on their JC night, there will be those who don’t – but are unsure how to deal with peer pressure.

It’s a good idea to try to give your child the confidence to turn down a drink. Or even equip them with a few ‘deflector remarks’ so they can refuse a drink without it becoming an issue.

Warning them of the risks of drinking is always advisable and it is helpful to explain that rules come from a place of concern and care.

But, ultimately, it’s our own drinking habits that will inform our children’s attitude to drink.

“In Ireland we have a blind acceptance that alcohol consumption is OK in times of celebration and commiseration,” Ms Horgan said. “You need to teach them that is not the case. They don’t have to use it as a crutch, or a way to celebrate success.”

If your child does get baloobas drunk, don’t berate them. Try to understand their situation, and why they felt the need to drink. And if your child sees you trying to understand them, it builds trust and they may be more inclined to listen to you in the future.

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