Remember your parents letting you have a small glass of wine with your Christmas dinner as a treat? Then you’re not alone.
According to a new study, one in six parents allow their children to drink alcohol by the age of 14. But experts are warning this could have some pretty serious consequences on their drinking habits in the future.
Researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education and Pennsylvania State University believe that many parents are offering their children alcohol at an early age as a way of teaching them to drink responsibly.
But according to scientists, there is no evidence that supervising children’s drinking protects them against harmful drinking in later life.
Instead, researchers are advising parents to heed the warnings from previous studies which revealed that those who start drinking early are more likely to fail at school and have behaviour issues as well as alcohol and substance problems in adulthood.
“Parents of socially advantaged children may believe that allowing children to drink will teach them responsible use or may in fact inoculate them against dangerous drinking. However, there is little research to support these ideas,” explains Lead author Professor Jennifer Maggs from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education.
The research, which is part of the Millennium Cohort Study, and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, analysed 10,000 children born in the UK at the turn of the century, and revealed that well educated parents of white children were most likely to allow their children to drink at 14.
The researchers examined reports of parents’ drinking habits and attitudes to drinking, linking them to information on family structure, employment status and parents’ educational attainment.
The results also found that mums and dads who were light or moderate drinkers were just as likely to let their children drink as those parents who drank heavily. However, those who abstained from alcohol tended not to allow their children to drink.
By age 14, almost half the children said they had tried more than a few sips of alcohol but three years earlier only about one in seven had done so.
Commenting on the findings, Katherine Brown, Chief Executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: “The Chief Medical Officer recommends that an alcohol-free childhood is best, with children not drinking any alcohol before the age of 15.”
“This is important guidance because alcohol can harm children given their bodies and brains are not yet fully developed,” she continued.
“It is worrying to see that this advice may not be getting across to parents, who are trying to do their best to teach their children about alcohol. We need to see better guidance offered to parents via social marketing campaigns and advice from doctors and schools.”
“Parents deserve to know they can have a positive impact, and can reduce health harms associated with young people drinking.”
Dr John Larsen, director of evidence and impact at Drinkaware, told The Guardian that children should not drink, advising instead that parents give advice to teenagers about alcohol and its effects. He encouraged them to keep the conversations “open and honest.”
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