• People who are under the legal drinking age should not drink alcohol
  • Parents are the single most important influence on whether or not teenagers decide to drink alcohol
  • Parents should set a good example to their children and provide clear guidance on alcohol, whatever their age

'People who are under the legal drinking age should not drink alcohol'

People who drink when they are underage do so at a time when they are maturing physically and psychologically. They do so at a time in their lives when they may feel invincible or rebellious or when they are attempting to make a statement about their own independence. When alcohol is added to the mix, inhibitions may be lowered, judgement may be impaired, risk-taking may follow, and serious, potentially life-threatening, problems can arise.

The legal position

In most countries around the world there are strict laws about the minimum age for purchasing and/or consuming alcohol. These laws are established for good reasons and they should be taken very seriously. Depending on the circumstances and the country, violating these laws can result in substantial fines, losing driving privileges and maybe even jail time.

The effects

Underage drinking can cause serious problems at home and school. There are social consequences for underage drinkers, too, as it can cause reputational damage and self-esteem issues if behaviour becomes out of control. It can also be associated with or contribute to serious negative outcomes, including the following:

  • Car accidents
  • Other types of accidents
  • Suicide
  • School failure
  • Truancy
  • Theft and other unlawful behaviour
  • Unsafe sex
  • Other dangerous risk-taking practices

In addition, the effects of alcohol on the developing brain are not completely known. Some studies have reported that underage drinking may impair brain development. Respecting the law, one's self and each other is paramount.

Parents are the single most important influence on whether or not teenagers decide to drink alcohol

Studies show that parents have the biggest influence on whether an underage person decides to drink alcohol. So, it's important that your children know where you stand: that underage drinking is not acceptable.

Set rules and explain the consequences

As a parent, you need to set rules and make sure your children understand the consequences of underage drinking. Let your children know that these rules and consequences are there because you care, and that following the rules will lead to even more privileges because you know they can be trusted.

Know the law

Rules on underage drinking are not limited to those you set in your family. Make sure that you – and your children – know the facts about the law and underage drinking.

Be involved

Play an active part in your children's daily lives – know who their friends are, where they are going, and what they are doing. Get to know the parents of your children's friends, too, and let them know how you feel about underage drinking.

Keep talking

A strong, positive relationship between parents and children is based on open, two-way communication. You can develop a positive relationship by talking with (and listening to) your children every day about school, friends, interests and dreams. These conversations make it easier to talk about more serious subjects, like not drinking alcohol. Make sure your first or only conversation about alcohol isn't when there is a problem. Take advantage of ordinary opportunities like riding in the car, walking to the shops, eating dinner or watching television. Be honest, using age-appropriate explanations that can be expanded as your child gets older and gains independence. Ask your son or daughter questions about their beliefs about alcohol. Then, provide the facts and dispel any myths about drinking.

What can parents do

Although parents often feel powerless in the face of television, movies and peer pressure, they are the single most important influence in their children’s lives. Children learn by observation. Parents should set a good example, as well as always making it clear what behaviour is appropriate around alcohol.

Parents should set a good example to their children and provide clear guidance on alcohol, whatever their age

Set a good example

It’s not just what you say, it’s what you do – every day. By drinking responsibly and observing your country’s alcohol laws, you’ll reinforce important family values for your son or daughter to follow. If you do drink irresponsibly, you’re also setting a poor example for them in later life, should they begin to drink alcohol. Always behave appropriately. Don’t laugh at people who are drunk or who are behaving badly under the influence of alcohol. Use news stories, TV episodes, movies or personal events as opportunities to discuss what appropriate and inappropriate behaviour is.

Build confidence by role playing

Prepare children under the legal drinking age not to drink alcohol. One way of doing this is through role play. This will help prepare your son or daughter to face peer pressure and to react positively to potentially dangerous situations.

  • What can you do if friends start drinking at a party?
  • What can you do if someone offers you alcohol?
  • What can you do if the friend driving you home has been drinking?
  • What can you do if a friend has been drinking and is sick or passes out?

Talk through the range of choices available and try to reach agreement on which ones are most in line with your family values.

Talking to older children

Your role as a parent doesn’t stop once your child has reached legal drinking age. Parents should continue to give support and guidance on responsible drinking. This could include advice on how to refuse a drink politely, how to ‘lose’ drinks that have been pressed on you and how to drink in moderation.

In particular, remind your son or daughter:

  • Don't drink and drive
  • Don't accept a lift from someone who’s been drinking – why not volunteer to be the designated driver instead?
  • Don't operate machinery, climb a ladder, sail a boat or attempt any other such activities when you have been drinking
  • Don't become intoxicated
  • Don't take part in drinking games
  • Don't drink on an empty stomach – food slows the absorption of alcohol into the body
  • Don’t rely on ‘remedies’ such as coffee, cold showers and fresh air if you’ve drunk too much. They don’t work. Only time will sober you up.