As a single mother I will jump to the defence of single mothers everywhere if I sense a whiff of criticism aimed unjustly in our direction. We represent a sector of society that is so easily scapegoated and so regularly stereotyped by people who fail to understand that mothers who are parenting alone are doing so for a variety of different reasons and, in the large majority of cases, we are putting our children first, doing the very best we can and doing a damn good job.
Attending an event recently about children and alcohol, I heard someone ask what percentage of underage drinkers have single mothers and, it would seem, make the assumption that such women would find it difficult to tackle the issue of underage drinking without an authoritative father figure in the house.
I sensed more than a whiff of criticism and felt the need to raise my hand and state that I am educating my child about alcohol and that I have developed strong lines of communication with my daughter, which I think will make these sorts of difficult conversations easier. And I am also a single mother.
Often families with two parents don’t talk to their children about alcohol. I’m a single parent and I discuss a whole host of issues with my child, so quit the prejudice.
According to Drinkaware, currently only 17% of parents have a plan to talk to their children about alcohol. Yet nearly three quarters of children aged 9 -17 would turn to their patents first for information and advice on drinking alcohol, so it’s a topic we need to prepare for. The more information our children have, and the earlier they get it, the better.
Drinkaware advise that we talk to our children before they - or their friends - have their first drink, ideally before they make the transition to secondary school. In the UK the average age children first try alcohol is just under 14.
Giving our children the facts from an early age makes sure they have accurate information to understand or challenge what their friends tell them and helps them become more confident in the ability to make their own decisions. Opening up the lines of communication ensures an ongoing dialogue about responsible drinking can continue throughout the teenage years.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to talking about alcohol; however, the Drinkaware website has a section for parents with a quick guide to what children need to know at ages 8-10, 9-12, 11-14 and 13-17. Their current kids and alcohol campaign also provides parents with information about why and when to talk to your child, the short- and long-term risks of alcohol consumption, what the law says along with tips and advice, including:
Rather than waiting for something bad to happen, think about when and how you are going to start the conversation and keep it going.
One in six children drink because they are bored. If you can, offer a space where your child can spend time with their friends without alcohol or encourage them to take up a hobby,
Make sure your child knows that drinking is a decision.
Try talking to them about ways they can say “no” so they feel confident in that situation. They could say they are training for a sports match the next day or that they have a rehearsal or family event.
Learning about alcohol isn’t only about factual education. By helping your child learn how to weigh up the pros and cons of other scenarios, like which secondary school to go to or whether to travel home alone, you can prepare them for making their own decision about drinking.
They key seems to be to have open lines of communication with your child, instil in them enough confidence to allow them to make their own decisions, have a plan about how and when to talk to them about alcohol, and ensure that conversation keeps going throughout their teenage years.
Comments about single mothers aside, my lasting memory of morning with Drinkaware is the remark that we wouldn’t allow our children to cross a road without preparing them in advance, yet so many parents fail to talk to their children about alcohol, and the consequences of this can be fatal. It simply isn’t an issue we can choose to ignore.
Targeted advice and support is also available at direct.gov.uk/youngpeopleandalcohol
The NHS website has more information on alcohol and its effects at nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol
If you are a single parent looking for further advice on any parenting issue, I’d recommend Gingerbread.org.uk.
Drinkaware paid my travel expenses to attend this event.