Better understanding what makes effective conversations about alcohol between parents and their 15-17 year olds

    Project Details


    There is increasing awareness of the role that parents can have in the development of their children’s drinking behaviour. The University of Brighton was funded by Drinkaware to understand how parental conversations can help reduce alcohol-harm amongst their 15-17 year old children. As such, this study aimed to understand what helps achieve effective conversations by addressing the following two research questions:

    1.What are the barriers and facilitators to parents in the UK having effective current/future harm prevention conversations about alcohol with their 15-17 year olds?
    2.What types of information, strategies and/or tools would enable parents in the UK to have more effective and on-going conversations with their 15-17 year olds?

    The project used a cross-sectional qualitative design. Recruitment took place over two phases to allow a purposive maximum variation sample of parents and young people. The final sample consisted of 48 parents and 16 young people (15-17 year olds) who took part in a semi-structured interview. The sample was diverse and included participants from throughout the United Kingdom. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data separately for all parents, all young people, and 16 matched parent-child pairs.

    Key findings

    Parent interviews - The majority of parents drank openly in front of their children and this was considered to portray a sensible drinking message. Most parents were comfortable talking to their child about alcohol.

    It was considered that open and honest conversations helped demystify alcohol for young people. Most conversations that parents had with their children were small and informal and a wide range of triggers to these conversations were reported (for example: a television programme, witnessing someone drunk, social media).

    Although there were no major barriers reported that prevented parents from speaking to their child about alcohol, several topics were identified which parents felt less confident talking about such as units of alcohol, legal issues around alcohol, how to explain alcohol dependency to children, and types of alcoholic drinks that young people drink. There was some evidence that as children got older conversations became more frequent and more focused on safety.

    Young person interviews – Young people generally exhibited low levels and infrequent occurrences of drinking. Alcohol-related conversations were generally viewed as being “in passing” and never a formal sit-down conversation. Timing of conversations was also important to young people, having a greater impact if they were at a suitable time or place, and when everyone was relaxed.

    Young people thought it was helpful to hear about their parents’ “real life” experiences. The findings suggest that young people attach great value to the information from their parents. A range of triggers to conversations were reported but the most frequent instance was just before a child went to a party. The most commonly discussed topics were around sensible drinking and limiting the effects of alcohol. Although young people generally considered themselves knowledgeable about alcohol some noted that they wanted more information in certain areas such as how to find their “limit”, different types and strengths of alcohol, and units of alcohol.

    Matched parent-child interviews - Overall, the matched parent-child interviews were very consistent. Young people and parents generally reported similar accounts of their child’s alcohol consumption. The mutual recollection of conversation starters and topics are indicative of the most salient and effective strategies to exchange knowledge about harm-reduction. There was also agreement regarding the style of conversation, which was viewed as an open and informal approach. It was fairly typical that not all topics were recalled by young people compared to those raised by their parent and vice-versa.

    Overall, young people’s low level of drinking and reported drunkenness suggests that the conversation triggers and the topics covered by parents could be considered as highly effective in generating harm-reduction behaviours.
    Effective start/end date1/12/1631/05/17


    • The Drinkaware Trust


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