How should you deal with a young person’s drinking and discuss it together?

Although alcohol use among minors has declined in recent years, alcohol touches the lives of every young person in one way or another. For parents, it is important to keep themselves informed about what their children are thinking and support them when pondering about intoxicants.

Children form their first ideas about alcohol at home. Do their parents use alcohol? Is the drinking harmless? Do the parents give underage children a taste or is alcohol strictly for adults only?

Children are highly sensitive to the smallest changes in the family atmosphere. The behaviour of a parent who enjoys alcohol in moderation can make a child feel confused and even afraid. Children often encounter alcohol advertisements and other such communications at a very early age. For this reason, school-age children should already know the basic facts about intoxicants.

The harmful effects of alcohol are the same for young people as they are for adults. However, alcohol is more harmful to the young developing brain than to adults. Inexperience and the lack of knowledge about one’s own limits can have serious consequences – young people are an at-risk group for alcohol poisoning. Read more about why alcohol is not suitable for young people.

Alcohol use by young people decreased in 2019, but few adults are teetotal

Alcohol use by young people, minors in particular, has been on the wane. In 2019, 97 per cent of 12-year-old boys and girls stated that they do not drink any alcohol at all (source: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, youth health habits survey 2019 [in Finnish]). Two of the reasons that are thought to explain this trend are stricter attitudes among parents and more difficult access to alcohol. Different health and wellness trends play a strong role in the lives of young people and some of them voluntarily choose to be teetotal. Although the vast majority of young people are doing well, not everyone is so fortunate. Young people’s problems often do not solely involve intoxicants – they also face challenges in other parts of their lives.

Although the abstinence trend has gained ground, young people often start using alcohol on the threshold of adulthood. Only 16 per cent of boys and 12 per cent of girls aged 18 stated that they abstain from alcohol. Binge-drinking also becomes more common with age. More than 20 per cent of 18-year-old boys and girls said that they had drunk enough to become intoxicated one to two times a month or more frequently. (Source: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, youth health habits survey 2019 [in Finnish].) Adults mainly drink when having fun and relaxing, but also due to sadness, anxiety and boredom (source: A-Clinic Foundation, adulthood and intoxicants survey of young people, 2018 [in Finnish]).

Adults should keep themselves informed about the lives of their children

Young people – and often young adults, too – want to discuss their thoughts about alcohol with their parents. It is important for adults to listen to the opinions of young people and respect their views. An adult is always a role model for a young person. Think about what your own alcohol use looks like through the eyes of a child or young person. Read more about what alcohol use by adults looks like to a child.

Do not buy alcohol for minors, even if they ask you to. By law, a minor may not possess alcoholic beverages. Selling and supplying alcohol to those under 18 is also forbidden. Giving a taste of alcohol to a young person at home does not necessarily decrease his/her interest in experimenting with drinks. On the contrary, by doing so parents are in fact sending their children the message that it is okay for young people to drink alcohol.

You should keep in mind that parents are ultimately always responsible for the actions of their underage children. Although not all young people try or use alcohol, it is good for every young person to know the basic facts about alcohol.

Talk about alcohol with young people

  • Ask if the young person has been served alcohol.
  • Ask him/her what being drunk means and whether he/she – or his/her friends – have ever been drunk.
  • Ask if his/her peer group pressures people to use alcohol.
  • Discuss what to say to refuse alcohol when it is offered.
  • Think about what one should do if someone posts drunken photos of themselves or other people on social media.
  • Discuss how to tell a friend that they should not drink any more.
  • Agree on what to do if a friend passes out.
  • Agree on rules for what will happen if the young person drinks enough to become intoxicated or comes home drunk.