It’s not always easy knowing the right thing to do as a parent when it comes to alcohol. But research is starting to become overwhelming that giving alcohol to children – even small amounts with the best intentions – carries a risk of giving your child a taste for it.
This latest study – tracking around 2000 adolescents over 7 years – is the latest to find that supplying kids with alcohol was linked to increased odds that they will binge drink as they get older. This usually started with sips and the odds worsening as full drinks were provided (1).
We know this is happening in the North East and across the country, with thousands of teenagers ending up in hospital due to alcohol each year. And England’s biggest survey into teenage drinking habits among 11-15 year olds also shows some worrying findings:
• 1 in 10 (9%) pupils have been drunk in the past week. Girls are more likely than boys to get drunk (1 in 7) and are more likely to drink wine and spirits
• Of these, the most common adverse consequence reported was feeling ill or sick (40%) and 23% had vomited.
• Most of the alcohol consumed by children comes from the family home, provided by parents
• Children from affluent families – and families where parents and siblings also drink – are more likely to drink.
What’s more, children who drink in the home are also more likely to drink outside the home. We would not give our children cigarettes for this very reason.
Many people talk about the continental approach to alcohol, with images in our heads of families all enjoying a civilised glass of wine, and the fact we don’t see images in the media of French teenagers getting drunk and falling over.
But our colleagues in France tell us that the country has had a wake-up call around drinking in recent years. What we don’t see either in those newspapers is the toll that alcohol takes on health in France – it is the second-biggest cause for preventable deaths, killing an estimated 41,000 people each year.
When we think about our kids’ welfare, we’re also thinking about their health and their lives as adults in decades to come. The Chief Medical Officer advice states that it is healthiest and safest for children not to drink before 18 and if they do drink, it should definitely not be before 15.
That might seem at odds with what we’ve been conditioned to believe – that alcohol is a rite of passage, that kids drinking is inevitable, and that we drank as teenagers and we’re OK…
But are we? How many of us look at the recycling bin and think “Owch!” How many of us have reached for two or three glasses of wine a night, harbour worries about how much we’re putting away and wish we could re-set our own relationship with alcohol?
There’s a good reason why it is illegal for shops to sell alcohol to children or to buy for anyone under 18. Supplying kids with it not only risks their health but is undermining the law, potentially even fuelling anti-social behaviour.
Nobody wants to think their child might be the one getting drunk, taking risks, having an accident or getting into a situation they can’t handle, just as nobody wants alcohol to harm their own health. So we are urging parents to think twice.