Positive role modelling and teen binge drinking

Positive role modelling by parents could make a huge impact on teen binge drinking

Published 17 June 2011  |  
A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation confirms what we probably all suspected – that parents have a major role to play in determining whether and how much children and young people drink.

Based on a survey of nearly 6,000 Year 9 and Year 11 pupils, the report concludes that parents influence childhood drinking in three ways:
 by controlling the age at which drinking starts
 by example (ie, the parent’s own drinking habits)
 through supervision; for example, how many evenings the child is allowed to spend out with friends

Being offered alcohol from an early age was found to increase the risk of frequent drinking and drunkenness. Young people who see their parents drunk are twice as likely to get drunk themselves. The more time young people are allowed to spend with their friends, the more likely they are to be drinking excessively.

Of course parents are not the only influences children come under, and having friends that drink also increases the probability that a young person will be drinking – and to the same level.

Most young people have positive expectations from alcohol consumption and this raises the question – is clever alcohol marketing far outweighing the health warnings that they receive from the media and in the class room? In addition, the alcohol industry has been producing drinks like alcopops specifically designed to appeal to the young. Is there a case for introducing restrictions on the alcohol industry in the area of advertising and drink design?

Another factor that influences drinking habits is the ease with which alcohol is obtained. With many supermarkets using alcohol as loss leaders, it is not surprising that alcohol is stockpiled in many homes, making it readily available to youngsters. Alcohol is so cheap that it is well within the reach of many young people with average amounts of pocket money – all they need is a ‘helpful’ adult to purchase it for them. Does the Government need to think again about introducing meaningful minimum pricing on alcohol?

Sadly, the Rowntree report concludes that “there appears to be little benefit in policy aiming to prevent young people from trying alcohol”. This, despite the fact that the report, ‘Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2009’, found that there has been a 10% increase in recent years in the numbers of young people choosing not to drink alcohol at all. This amounts to 49%, nearly half of the thousands of Year 7 to 11 pupils surveyed.

The perception that it is unrealistic to think that we can discourage young people from drinking at all has been challenged very recently by Dr Aric Sigman. In a widely reported address to the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference on June 6th, he revealed evidence that teenagers who misuse alcohol are causing lasting damage to their developing brains. His recommendation is that young people should not drink any alcohol until they are 25.

Hope UK believes that the alcohol-free option is a real choice that many young people are already making. Positive role modelling by parents and greater acceptance of alcohol-free lifestyles by society combined with controls on alcohol advertising and marketing could make a huge impact on teen binge drinking.

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