THREE quarters of North-East parents think it’s important to talk to children about alcohol by the age of 14, a new survey has revealed.

The latest survey findings from Balance come as the region plays host today to a major conference exploring the issues around children, teenagers and alcohol and the global pressures the young generation is under to drink.

The Alcohol Free Childhood – Global Pressures to Local Actionconference is being held in Newcastle, with attendance from around 130 professionals working in health, local authorities, children’s services and police.

Figures from NHS Digital show that one in 10 children aged from 11 to 15 – around 15,000 pupils – are drinking regularly in the region and the main source of alcohol is the family home. Girls are more likely to drink than boys and children from more affluent families are more likely to drink.

The conference is set to explore the global pressures on children, such as social media and how alcohol companies have been exposed for blasting out advertising messages online to under-age drinkers using paid influencer role models, teaching them that drinking is cool.

Chief Medical Officer guidelines are clear that children should drink no alcohol before the age of 15, but an alcohol free childhood to the age of 18 is the best and safest option, with alcohol linked to health problems and accidents and with children’s brains still developing until their 20s.

The survey also found that 9/10 North-East parents would be angry if another parent or adult they knew gave their child alcohol without their permission, while 6/10 do not think it is acceptable to give children a sip of alcohol before the age of 15.

Expert speakers will be exploring some of the key issues around young people and alcohol, including: the “Wild West” of social media and how alcohol companies blast out advertising messages online to under-age drinkers, teaching them that drinking is cool.

It will also explore the impact of sports sponsorship and merchandising and the issues faced by children living with dependent drinkers.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “Despite a reduction in the numbers of children drinking, hundreds of 11-15 year olds in the region consume alcohol on a weekly basis, putting themselves at risk of both short and long-term harm.

“Balance is working with parents to provide them with the tools to protect their children and to show them that, despite what they might think, a childhood free from alcohol is possible.”

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead Council and DPH lead for alcohol in the North East, said: “More of our children are choosing not to drink alcohol and as parents and professionals we need to do everything in our power to encourage that trend and support our kids in making healthy decisions.

“But we also need to be aware of the wider pressures children face. Alcohol is significantly more affordable than three decades ago, the alcohol industry is finding new ways to target young people through sport and social media and our children are acutely aware of their advertising. At the same time many alcohol companies are completely failing to communicate the guidelines or the risks.”