Listen: Dr Justin Coulson chats to Katrina Roe about kids and alcohol.
There’s an urban myth about alcohol that’s circulated among parents for years, which experts are finding it hard to debunk.
It’s the old idea that giving your children sips of alcohol from a young age, even just on special occasions, will reduce the mystique around drinking and prevent your kids binge drinking later in life.
But the cold, hard data proves otherwise.
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For years researchers have been proving in studies, conducted in all kinds of communities and environments, that giving alcohol to children has an undesired effect. It sends children the signal that their parents approve of them drinking – and as a result they’re more likely to binge drink as teens and young adults.
Parenting expert and author Dr Justin Coulson said the myth about exposing kids to alcohol persists, because parents believe in the ‘Mediterranean effect’.
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“Parents point to people over in Italy and France and ‘those European countries’ where alcohol’s kind of a normal part of life, and apparently from a distance, we look at how they consume alcohol, and we think, ‘they’re doing it so well, we should learn from them’,” he said.
“But the research doesn’t bear that out. The research consistently has shown that when we give kids access to alcohol at younger ages – whether we’re in the Mediterranean or Australia or the USA or anywhere for that matter – they are more likely to consume higher amounts of alcohol and binge more.
“They just see it as a great big tick of approval for getting on the booze – and they actually do that.”
“Essentially what goes on is that kids believe their parents are endorsing alcohol consumption – so they think that when they’re with their friends it’s fine for them to go berserk. They just don’t regulate themselves very well.”
Science has shown that infrequent tasting before the age of 12, whether with parental permission or not, leads to a higher likelihood of harmful drinking in the teen years. This effect applies equally to children from conservative families, with no other risk factors for substance abuse.
“Even if it’s just fun, even if it’s just to give them a taste so that they’ll ‘grow up to drink it responsibly’, they just see it as mum and dad giving them a great big tick of approval for getting on the booze – and they actually do that,” Dr Coulson said.