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Family influence on young peopleÕs drinking: an inconvenient truth?

Coney Island, the Whole Drand Family (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Parents expressed a desire to teach their children about both the positive and negative effects of alcohol and felt that it was best learnt in the home not at school. The report notes that whilst public drinking cultures have changed, parenting approaches to alcohol have not changed. Part of this reason was that parents felt they were best placed to understand their childÕs unique personality and needs.

Some parents complained about other parents allowing their children to drink in public and this underlines the gap; not all children have parents who are giving them positive messages about both the advantages and the risks relating to alcohol. Some children may be over-exposed, others may be over-protected. The report argues that alcohol education can start to address these shortfalls.
Even those who are being given messages by their parents are not being told about the more severe health risks, this is because parents do not have direct experience of these problems. The report also identified a lack of understanding about the impacts drinking has on others. Children reported that they were not receiving alcohol education in schools to fill in these gaps and this is identified as an area for development alongside parents so that messages are delivered in parallel. Download the report here.
The second paper, Pre-teens learning about alcohol: drinking and family contexts, looked at the understanding that 7 to 12 year olds have about drinking.
The researchers found:
¥Across the study age range, children demonstrated a nuanced understanding of alcohol and its effects, and an ability to appraise different consumption styles.
¥The home emerged as an important source of learning about the everyday use of alcoholÉ and there was some indication that children at this age can already anticipate modelling their own future drinking patterns on that of adult family members.
¥In contrast to learning in the home, school-based education appeared primarily to convey facts about alcohol and the effects of consumption, especially with regard to health.
¥Few parents sought to educate through proactive discussion but many supported a supervised trial of alcohol, mainly on special occasions.
¥ParentsÕ expectations of their childrenÕs future alcohol behaviours were often characterised by a sense of helplessness and a limited belief in their ability to teach their children to drink responsibly.
¥In comparison with other substances, alcohol assumed a much lower priority for parents with children in the study age range. Many were more concerned about smoking and drug taking, which were unequivocally seen as damaging to health and highly addictive.
They suggest:
findings suggest that young children are receiving mixed messages about alcohol in the home and at school, irrespective of social background, and that there is a need to encourage greater involvement of parents to help ensure consistency of message. This involvement is likely to depend on government taking a more proactive stance in guiding parents in order to harness the positive influence they can have on childrenÕs future drinking behaviour.

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