Should you give your children alcohol?


Parents get worried when they hear scary statistics about teenage drinking.

Because teenagers tend to be unaccustomed to alcohol and unaware of the dangers involved, parents may think that giving them alcohol at home removes drinking-related risks.

But is it a good idea to give your child alcohol?

Reasons for use and misuse

A ground-breaking Australian study however found that this is not the case and that providing alcohol to their underage kids as a way to introduce them to drinking carefully, doesn't protect them from the harms of heavy drinking.

In South Africa, surveys have shown that alcohol use among youth is common for a variety of reasons.

A 2012 Health24 article reported that nearly 80% of a group of surveyed Gauteng high school pupils regularly consumed alcohol.

Alcohol consumption leads to harm

According to the Australian article, the practice of introducing alcohol to children in a home environment actually appears to do more harm than good. Young people who got alcohol from parents were more likely than other teens to also get it elsewhere, the investigators found.

"Our study is the first to analyse parental supply of alcohol and its effects in detail in the long term, and finds that it is, in fact, associated with risks when compared to teenagers not given alcohol," said lead author Richard Mattick. He is a professor of drug and alcohol studies at the University of New South Wales.

For the study, Mattick's team followed more than 1 900 teens, whose ages ranged from about 12 to 18, over a six-year period.

The report was published in the The Lancet Public Health.

During those years, as teens got older, the proportion who got alcohol from mom and dad rose – from 15% to 57%. The proportion with no access to alcohol fell from 81% to 21%.

Signs of future alcohol abuse

By study's end, 81% of teens who got alcohol from both their parents and other people reported binge drinking (defined as having more than four drinks on a single occasion). That compared to 62% of teens who got alcohol only from other people, and 25% of those who got alcohol only from their parents.

Similar patterns were seen for alcohol-related harm, and for signs of future alcohol abuse, dependence and alcohol-use disorders, the study authors said.

In addition, the researchers found that teens whose parents supplied them with alcohol in one year were twice as likely to also get it elsewhere the next year.

The findings show that parents don't help teens deal with alcohol responsibility by providing it to them, and doing so does not reduce the risk that they will get it elsewhere, the researchers concluded.

Image credit: iStock

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