Reducing harm caused by alcohol


The Children's Parliament investigates an alcohol-free childhood

We believe our children have the right enjoy a happy childhood, free from the emotional and physical impact of other people’s drinking and alcohol marketing.  As adults we don’t necessarily appreciate the awareness children have of alcohol and its impact on their lives, assuming that because it isn’t aimed at them that they aren’t affected by it. We know from work with the Children’s Parliament that they notice and are affected by alcohol in their environment both in the home, and in their communities.

The Scottish Government has committed to put the voices of children and young people at the heart of developing preventative measures on alcohol.

 Children's Parliament visit

The work the Children’s Parliament is doing will directly contribute to Alcohol Focus Scotland’s work to build support for an alcohol-free childhood, and the measures needed to achieve this. In particular, relevant findings will be included in AFS’s submission to the Scottish Government’s upcoming consultation on potential measures to protect children and young people from alcohol marketing in Scotland. 

On the 28th May 2019 seven ‘investigators’ from the Children’s Parliament met with Minister for Public Health Joe FitzPatrick and Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland.

The investigators - a group of 9 to 11 year olds - have been working with 100 of their peers in three primary schools across Edinburgh.

During the session the children explained that they had carried out workshops with their classmates in Stenhouse, Sighthill and St John’s primary schools to learn more about where they see alcohol on a daily basis, how this makes them feel and what an alcohol-free childhood means to them.

Alcohol has routinely been raised as an issue by children in other projects run by the Children’s Parliament.

What have the Investigators found?

They talked about how the workshops had been run and the tasks the children had participated in to get them thinking about where alcohol appears in their lives. From the workshops it transpired that children are seeing alcohol or alcohol-related advertising from early in the morning, while getting breakfast, on their walk to school, throughout the day in shops, on posters and billboards and in parks, then on TV and online and in the home before they go to bed. The groups also talked about seeing people drinking while traveling on trains and before the football.

During the workshops held over three days, 100 children created artwork showing where they see alcohol in their lives. Each picture is brightly coloured with the alcohol left blank. The investigators talked the Minister through some of the images including shops where they see the brightly coloured price tags highlighting price discounts, sports ground hoardings with alcohol advertising, parties and social gatherings, and broken bottles as well as people drinking in parks.

When asked by Mr Fitzpatrick whether they see alcohol adverts on TV one child responded “We see it a lot, all the time”. The investigators reported more generally that the children across Edinburgh spoke about seeing adverts on TV, and finding this concerning as it might prompt adults to drink more, as well as people drinking in TV programmes.

Children's Parliament visit with PH minister

What would an alcohol-free childhood look like to them?

In their view of what an alcohol-free childhood would be like the groups of children identified that;

  •  “Children would be better and healthier because when they grow up they wouldn’t think it is cool to drink.” MCP, ag 11
  • “When children went to the football there would be less fights because people would think before doing anything bad.” MCP, age 10
  • “It sometimes makes people feel left out at parties when everyone is drinking. Children can feel sad, ignored and not listened to.” MCP, age 9
  • “If parks were alcohol free children might feel safe and happy” MCP, age 10
  • “Life would be better [for children] because when they [adults] are drinking they could be spending time with their children.” MCP, age 10
  • “It would make children feel less worried and more happy” MCP, age 10

What did the adults say?

Speaking on the subject Alison Douglas said, “As adults we tend to assume that as an age-restricted product children aren’t aware of alcohol and its advertising but we’ve got young children who are very aware of the different types of drinks, and of particular brands. What this work has really shown is just how often children are seeing alcohol – from opening the fridge in the morning when they get their breakfast throughout the day in shops, on adverts and in the home - and the negative effect it can have on their wellbeing.”

Joe FitzPatrick, Minister for Public Health said, “What I’ve been most surprised at today has been just how much children are coming into contact with alcohol in some way. When you see it written down and you hear them talking about it, it’s quite stark. Clearly alcohol has a huge impact on the lives of children, and it’s really important that we hear their voices as we move on to develop policies to protect children from the alcohol harm that affects the whole of society.”

Find out more about Alcohol Focus Scotland's work on an alcohol-free childhood.