A new study suggests that parents are the most significant influence on their young child’s attitude toward alcohol and that most parents convey a balanced approach to drinking.
The findings also reveal, however, that children (ages 5 to 12) aren’t educated as well on certain issues, such as possible health risks. The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Leeds and the University of Manchester.
Until now, studies have focused more on teenagers’ attitudes toward drinking; much less was known about how parents talk about alcohol with younger children and whether drinking habits are rooted in early childhood experiences.
“Our research shows how important it is to open up a frank and honest dialogue about alcohol with children from an early age,” said Professor Gill Valentine from the University of Leeds and lead author of the report.
“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.”
Professor Valentine and colleagues, including Dr. Mark Jayne from the University of Manchester, focused on this knowledge gap by conducting a national survey of 2,089 parents and caregivers, and performing in-depth case studies to investigate how parents are educating their young children about alcohol.
The researchers observed influences from both within the family – drinking habits of individual family members and house rules- and from outside sources such as the media, social networks and law.
They discovered that parents want their children to appreciate the pleasures of alcohol, and also understand the risks of excessive consumption, so that if they choose to drink as adults, they will do so responsibly.
Interviews in the case studies revealed that the children had absorbed these ideas, and they believed that once they became adults, they would drink only in moderation. The children also fully understood alcohol to be an adult beverage and were aware of age restrictions on buying alcohol through advertisements.
Although the children had a healthy knowledge of the social problems associated with drinking, they had less understanding of potential health hazards. Also, most could not remember having alcohol education at school.
“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,” said Professor Valentine.
“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.”
The findings may help organizations that educate parents on how to talk about alcohol with their children. The research also suggests that school alcohol education programs could be enhanced to further support the discussions children receive at home.
Source: University of Leeds