Are you OK with parents drinking wine with their kids?Should you drink in front of your children?
According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS), children who witness “low-level parental drinking” – that is, no more than the Government guidelines of 14 units a week – can find the experience damaging. They may be embarrassed or worried, and bedtime may be disrupted. Being around heavier drinking is, unsurprisingly, even more anxiety-inducing.
Katherine Brown, the IAS’s chief executive, warned in the report: “Parents who have a glass or two of wine in the evening deserve to understand how this might affect their children, and the steps they can take to minimise this.”
It is certainly not unusual to have a gin and tonic or a beer before or during a family meal – so what harm are we really doing? Gill Sherwin, 44, who lives in Cheshire with her husband, Will, 53, believes in a balanced approach. The couple are happy to drink beer in front of their seven-year-old daughter, Lucy, not least as they run Bestofbritishbeer.co.uk, an online beer gift retailer.
“Our daughter has seen a lot of beer come through the house,” says Gill. “She’s seen us open 12 bottles at a time if we are tasting a mixed case. We don’t drink all of them, of course, and we’re very clear that we are interested in quality not quantity. But I believe you can teach children how to drink moderately and responsibly.”
The family also talk about how beer is produced. “We discuss commerce, label design, geography – even what type of food goes with what beer. And every Saturday we do The Daily Telegraph pub quiz together, and Will and I have a beer with that.” As a result, Lucy doesn’t think that beer is “super exciting – or contraband either”, says Gill.
This kind of balanced approach is fine, says Alastair Mordey, addiction counsellor at The Cabin Chiang Mai. “The issue of drinking around children really comes down to ‘how’ it is done. In general, drunkenness (bar perhaps a once-a-year Christmas free-for-all) sends a pretty poor message to impressionable youngsters. It is not alcohol itself that’s the problem, but the way it’s consumed.
“Enjoying small amounts of wine over a meal, or a few beers in a pub garden at the weekend, is a perfectly healthy part of our culture. Exposing children to that does no harm at all. Children seeing their parents incapacitated in some way is what does the harm.”
There is also the possibility that your child will decide to copy you. According to a survey carried out by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, pupils aged 11-15 in England are more likely to drink if they live with other people who drink alcohol. And 86 per cent of pupils who did not live with anyone who drank alcohol had never drunk alcohol themselves, compared with 40 per cent of pupils who lived with three or more drinkers. The charity points to a strong relationship between pupils’ drinking behaviour and their parents’ attitudes to their drinking, with 77 per cent of pupils who had never drunk alcohol reporting that their parents would not like them drinking, and 84 per cent of pupils who had drunk in the past week revealing that their parents did not mind them drinking as long as they didn’t drink too much.
We parents can perhaps console ourselves when children are young that they don’t know what’s in our glass, but once they become teenagers the truth will out. Jane, a mother of three from Surrey, said her husband, Patrick, had been surprised by an encounter with his teenage son when preparing for a dinner party.
“Patrick was enjoying choosing some prosecco for a cocktail, and was decanting a bottle of red,” Jane says. “Until our 16-year-old son, James, sauntered into the kitchen, admired the bottles and then asked enthusiastically whether we were planning on getting smashed with our friends. That was a pause for thought as to what we were teaching him subliminally.”
She adds: “It seems to me that parents who come up with reasons why it’s OK to drink in front of your children just can’t admit to themselves they don’t want to stop.”
Psychotherapist Jennie Miller suggests that we need to establish healthy boundaries around alcohol. “It is out there in the wider world, so the key is to model positive behaviour for children. Savouring a glass of wine with a meal is not a problem, nor is a discussion about who is a designated driver if you go out to a party. It’s good for children to see that type of responsibility.”
Where Miller is concerned is when alcohol causes behaviour to change. “I don’t think it is great for children to see parents drunk. It can be very scary for them and, even if the parent is being funny and loving, it can be unnerving or frightening. If you know you have a leaning towards getting smashed with a certain set of friends, don’t have your children present.”
It’s also not OK to expect your children to take control, she says. “Don’t discuss it with them, or ask if they mind if you have a glass of wine. Don’t put it on them.”
Gill is also concerned about adults being drunk in front of children “especially if they are in charge”, although she adds: “I do think a slightly tipsy parent is a good fun parent. A lot more relaxed and playful.”
For her, the benefits of educating her daughter about alcohol are key: “If a child never sees an adult drink responsibly, how would they then know how to do it? They might not do what you say, but they often do what you do.
“If you never drink a beer or glass of wine around them, what happens when they go to university and have no understanding of alcohol? You have a responsibility to socialise your child too.”
Gill adds: “Lucy is quite conversant on different beer types for a seven-year-old, and could easily spot a well-hopped pale ale from an amber rye lager. We sell our beer on QVC too, so sometimes I find she has been making films of herself doing that too.”
The only drink Gill and Will don’t quaff in front of Lucy is wine. “We might have a couple of glasses after she has gone to bed. But that’s more to make it a treat for us rather than any moral judgment.”
Let us know what you think before the clock runs out.