Why do parents and teenagers consistently overestimate the percentage of young people who drink alcohol and the prevalence of drunkenness?

Press release: Embargoed until 4 September 

Why do parents and teenagers consistently overestimate the percentage of young people who drink alcohol and the prevalence of drunkenness?

Parents and carers think they are justified in supplying alcohol to teens because they perceive it’s the norm and assume that someone else will supply it if they don’t

78% of parents overestimated the number of teenagers who drink alcohol– just 38% of 11-15 year olds have tried alcohol and only 4% drink weekly

Only 3% of parents correctly identified that 20% of 16-24 year olds get drunk regularly – most thought at least half did.

49% of parents and carers believed friends and peers were the prime suppliers of alcohol to their children and whereas it is actually themselves.  

The Alcohol Education Trust, which supports over 1,400 schools to prevent alcohol related harm has, in the past twelve months, interviewed parents and carers and secondary school children about their attitudes and behaviours around alcohol.

At a series of events throughout England, 650 11-15 year olds took part in face-to-face interviews. In addition, more that 300 parents and carers were questioned before and after an information session delivered by AET specialist staff on how to keep children safe around alcohol.

The results may surprise you – 49% of adults didn’t realise that parents are the prime supplier of alcohol, believing it to be friends and peers – and 65% of children believed this too.

Commonly, parents and carers thought that giving their children alcohol would stop them getting it from somewhere else and at least that way they’d know what they were drinking. In actuality, just 5% of teenagers have even tried to buy from a pub or shop. Whereas, of course, it is parents and carers who allow teenage parties at their houses, or send their children off to friends’ houses with alcohol – where most underage drinking takes place.

AET CEO Helena Conibear commented, ‘We wanted to see if we could change parents’ and carers’ attitudes to giving their younger teenagers alcohol – especially when going to parties or events. Parents are the main suppliers of alcohol to those under the age of 18, so it is key that we encourage them to think about what is appropriate at what age. At present the average age of the first WHOLE alcoholic drink is age 13, overwhelmingly in a supervised or family setting – far too young, and we are working to push this up to at least the Chief Medical Officers’ guidance of 15’.

 

Why is age 13 too young?

Helena continued, ‘At the parenting events we hold across the country, we are often challenged as to why the Mediterranean way of enjoying a small amount of alcohol at a meal isn’t the right way to introduce children to alcohol. We absolutely believe it is parents’ and carers’ role to introduce alcohol in a responsible manner – but 13 is just too young. The more relaxed and consensual we are about alcohol in the home, the more likely teens are to drink outside it, as they feel their parents won’t mind – Outside the home is predominantly where risk taking happens. We know that 11-15 year olds who drink regularly or consume heavily before the age of 15 are far more likely to try cigarettes, cannabis or novel psychoactive substances and to engage in unprotected/ risky sex. They are also more likely to injure themselves or someone else, be assaulted, robbed or get into trouble. School results suffer too, affecting life chances. Parents should also be aware that, as well as alcohol’s effect on their children’s behaviour and decision making, early heavy alcohol use is believed to affect brain development and to increase the likelihood of dependent drinking in later life. The 650 children interviewed thought the average age for consuming a first whole alcoholic drink was 15-16, which suggests they are happy with alcohol not being allowed by their parents before then’.

The underlying reason for the parental supply of alcohol to teens and the provision of whole drinks at such a young age is a perception by parents that most teenagers drink and that most 16–24 year-olds regularly binge drink. By correcting these norms, The AET helps parents understand their role as gate-keepers, influencing at what age and the quantity their teenagers drink.

‘The representative sample of parents and carers living with children in different geographical settings and from varying economic backgrounds suggests we can positively affect future parental behaviour and attitudes through a simple and engaging one hour intervention. Most encouraging of all is that 86% of parents/carers found the session informative and useful and 56% said that they intended to change the way they talk to their children about alcohol. Crucially, equipping parents and carers with the knowledge, confidence, and tools to set boundaries and talk about alcohol in the here and now, should lead to significant positive impacts for their children’ concludes Conibear.

Information for Editors: The Alcohol Education Trust works to improve the health and life chances of young people by reducing their risk taking. The charity aims to provide every child across Britain with access to evidence based alcohol education before they begin drinking via schools and community settings. The AET supports and trains teachers, PSHE leads and community leaders in engaging approaches that reduce all risk taking. It works to change the behaviour of young people by engaging them via digital platforms, games, apps and on line based activities. The AET empower parents/carers to provide the support and structure to enable their children to stay safe around alcohol. www.alcoholeducationtrust.org and www.talkaboutalcohol.com

Parent survey data was collected face to face from 323 parents and carers at 23 locations via qwizdom voting handsets and questionnaires, with a further 98 questionnaires completed on line. The complete findings can be read here.

The young peoples’ data was collected at Rock Challenge events across the country via an anonymous questionnaire. There were 651 respondents aged 11-17. You can read the full report here.

For comments or interview: contact: Helena Conibear 07876 593 345