Open Access Open Badges Research article

Parental knowledge of alcohol consumption: a cross sectional survey of 11–17 year old schoolchildren and their parents

Michela Morleo1*, Penny A Cook2, Gill Elliott3 and Penelope A Phillips-Howard4

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, Henry Cotton Campus (second floor), 15-21 Webster Street, Liverpool L3 2ET, UK

2 School of Health Sciences, University of Salford, Allerton Building, Salford M6 6PU, UK

3 Faculty of Education, Edge Hill University, St Helens Road, Ormskirk, Lancashire L39 4PQ, UK

4 Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place, Liverpool L3 5QA, UK

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:412  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-412

Published: 30 April 2013



Developing timely and effective strategies for preventing alcohol misuse in young people is required in order to prevent related harms since, worldwide, alcohol consumption was associated with 320,000 deaths amongst 15–29 year olds in 2004. Providing guidance and advice to parents is essential if alcohol misuse is to be reduced. However, prevention of risky behaviours is hampered if parents are unaware of the risks involved.


A cross-sectional school-based survey of parent–child dyads, simultaneously questioning 935 children aged 11–17 years old and their parent(s). Univariate and multivariate associations are reported between demography, alcohol behaviours and parental knowledge of their child’s alcohol consumption.


41.1% (n = 384) of children reported drinking alcohol. Of these, 79.9% of their parents were aware of their child’s alcohol consumption. Children aged 11–14 years had over a twofold greater odds of consuming alcohol without parental knowledge compared with 15–17 year olds (AOR: 2.7, 95% CI: 1.3-5.7). Of parent–child dyads where the child reported consuming alcohol, 92.7% of parents reported that they had spoken to their child about alcohol at least once in the past three months, whereas 57.3% of their children reported that this had occurred. Children who consumed alcohol and whose parents did not know they drank alcohol were less likely to report having a parental discussion about alcohol in the last three months (AOR: 0.4, 95% CI: 0.1-1.0) or report lifetime receipt of at least one other parenting protective measure (AOR: 0.5, 95% CI: 0.2-0.9) compared with those children who drank alcohol with parental knowledge.


Whilst only small numbers of young adolescents in our sample were drinking alcohol compared with older adolescents, those who did were more likely to do so without their parents’ knowledge. These two factors combined (drinking earlier and drinking without parental knowledge) could place children at risk of immediate harm. Further research is essential to identify whether public health strategies should be developed which could support parents to employ lifestyle parenting techniques even before the parent believes the child to be at risk.

Alcohol; Parents; Adolescents