Young people face conflicting pressures from different alcohol cultures

Families that move to Finland from different cultural and language backgrounds often run into the alcohol culture and habits of Finns – especially through the young members of the family – which may differ radically from the habits and customs of the parents.

As Finnish society becomes increasingly diverse, discussion about intoxicants as well as alcohol and drug education take on new nuances. Those who move to Finland from other cultures encounter vastly different attitudes to alcohol use than in their home country. There are countries in which alcohol consumption is not common, and some people are forbidden from consuming alcohol due to their cultural beliefs. What is normal in Finland is abnormal in many countries and cultures.

Conflicts arise when young people adopt Finnish drinking habits

Young people do what their friends do. Even if their own family forbids alcohol, young people may end up trying and consuming alcohol. As the adults hold on to the drinking customs and habits they are used to, while the young members of the family adopt Finnish customs – including in terms of drinking – internal conflicts may arise in the family.

Alcohol and other intoxicants might be a taboo that families cannot or do not want to talk about – and the young family members’ experimentation with alcohol can have serious consequences. Having their own child be caught drinking alcohol may be a great source of shame to parents. Parents lose face in their own community – and the community might pressure them to deal with the problem, even harshly. Young people may also experience these pressures from their family and community. They may be left alone and unable to find help or solutions to their predicament.

Adults and young people can break alcohol taboos together

Alcohol and drug education at schools can spark mutual discussions. In addition to lessons for children and youth, intoxicants should also be discussed at parents’ evenings, either together with young people or among the parents, while providing peer support. Together, we can think about the effects of Finnish alcohol culture on the lives of young people and families. The parents can realise what kinds of conflicting pressures their children live under. The youth in turn gain an understanding of the factors underlying their parents’ thinking. It’s important for parents to dare to break their own cultural taboos and talk about intoxicants with their children.

Alcohol and drug education should set out to build good self-esteem and social skills. It is important to not only discuss intoxicants with young people, but also to invite their parents to participate. In alcohol and drug education, it is important to understand and take into consideration that people live under the influence of different cultures – and to give them tools and support for dealing with these issues.

It’s obvious that we, as educators, need new culturally sensitive means to engage in alcohol and drug education. We also require assistance from experts from different cultural and language backgrounds. The greater diversity of society also calls for diversity in alcohol and drug education.

Ulla Siimes
Executive Director

Melody Karvonen
Multiculturalism Expert

The Finnish Parents' League promotes cooperation between families and daycare centres/schools as well as participation by parents. The Finnish Parents' League was involved in the ånni project in 2014-2017, which produced information and materials to support culturally sensitive alcohol and drug education. The Juteltaisko? (Can We Talk?) model produced in this project is available on the website of Ehyt ry, the Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention (in Finnish).

Article picture: Rich Smith / Unsplash

This text was originally published in November 2018 under the title "When in Rome? As Finland becomes more diverse, there is also a need for cultural sensitivity in alcohol and drug education". The updated version of the blog text was published in November 2020.