Alcohol: Children live what they learn

U. LEEDS (UK) — Parents are the most important influence on young children’s attitudes toward alcohol and appear successful  in conveying positive messages about drinking in moderation.

However a new study also suggests children are less aware of other issues surrounding alcohol consumption such as potential health risks.

The findings have important implications for instructing parents and schools on how to talk to children about alcohol.

“Our research shows how important it is to open up a frank and honest dialogue about alcohol with children from an early age,” says Gill Valentine, professor at the University of Leeds and the study’s lead author.

“On the whole, parents are already doing a good job at teaching their kids about sensible drinking. They avoid being drunk in front of their children and try to limit their exposure to alcohol outside the home, for example in pubs where food is not being served.

“However, parents don’t talk as much about the health risks—such as cancer, liver cirrhosis, and heart disease—because these issues do not resonate with their own experiences of drinking alcohol.”

While there is a large body of evidence on teenagers’ attitudes to drinking, much less is known about how parents teach younger children about alcohol and the extent to which young people’s drinking habits are rooted in earlier childhood experiences.

Valentine addressed this gap in knowledge by conducting a national survey of 2,089 parents and caregivers to find out how they teach young children about alcohol., examining influences from both within the family—house rules and the drinking habits of individual family members—and from external sources such as the media, social networks, and the law.

He found that parents want their children to appreciate the pleasures and benefits of alcohol, as well as the risks of excessive consumption so that as adults they will drink sensibly.

The case studies show that the message has been successfully absorbed by the children who were interviewed, who say that as adults they will only drink in moderation.

The children also recognize that alcohol is an adult product and are aware of age restrictions on buying alcohol through point of sale campaigns in supermarkets.

However, while the children show a reasonable awareness of the social harms associated with drinking, they have a poorer grasp of potential health risks.

Also, the majority could  not recall being taught about alcohol at school, even though the Department for Education states that alcohol education should form part of the National Curriculum.

“The fact that children say they are not learning about alcohol at school suggests that this education is either not taking place, or is not being delivered effectively,” Valentine says.

“This implies that it would be beneficial for the Department for Education to review the way alcohol education is currently delivered as part of the National Curriculum in primary schools.

“This education should also be run in parallel with campaigns targeted at parents in order to maximize impact.”

Researchers from the University of Manchester contributed to the research that was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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