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Should You Give Your Kids Alcohol at Home?

Young teen girl sitting on a couch at home with a beer bottle in her hand

“Why shouldn’t I let my kids taste alcohol while they’re at home? All those European kids do it, and they turn out fine. Maybe that’s the secret to preventing my kid from abusing alcohol when he/she gets older!”

Many parents embrace this approach toward alcohol and teens or tweens. However, there is no clear-cut evidence that this tactic produces older teens and young adults who are safer or more trustworthy drinkers.

Why Parents Supply Alcohol For Their Teens

The reasons some parents let kids sample alcohol at home are that they will learn proper drinking behaviors, become desensitized to the temptation of alcohol, and allow their parents to regulate their kids’ alcohol consumption. Often, this hypothesis is supported by the drinking culture in European families as well as the lower legal drinking age in these nations (18 years of age or less).

It is true that overall drunk driving fatality rates are lower in European countries than in the U.S. But does that mean that it is okay to let teens begin drinking earlier in life?

“Just a Sip”

Recent research tends to rebut this premise. A Brown University study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs in 2015 surveyed American students to see when they took their first sip of an alcoholic beverage. Results indicated that the kids who reported sampling alcohol (usually under the supervision of a parent) before they started sixth grade were more likely to get drunk and/or drink heavily by ninth grade than kids who never sipped alcohol.

Are European Teens More Responsible Drinkers?

Moreover, it appears that European adolescents may not be as responsible with alcohol consumption as many people think. Research published in 2007 by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation revealed that when compared to U.S. teenagers, more European teens reported drinking in the past 30 days and also admitted that they first became intoxicated before age 13.

A Long-Term Study About Parents Giving Booze to Kids

More recent studies tend to support these findings. An article published in The Lancet in January of 2018 detailed the results of an Australian study of more than 1900 adolescents and their parents over a six-year period. Roughly 15 percent of 12-year olds reported being given alcohol by a parent in situations like a family dinner, party, or special occasion (or even when no adults were present). That percentage rose each year to a high of 57 percent of 17-year old study participants.

Researchers observed the following results:

  1. Adolescents who were supplied alcohol only by their parents in a given year were more than twice as likely to obtain alcohol from another source the following year than their peers who were not supplied with alcohol.
  2. Teens who were given alcohol by their parents were more than twice as likely to binge drink, exhibit alcohol use disorder symptoms, and experience an alcohol-related harm (such as a hangover, getting in trouble at school, or engaging in risky behaviors) than their peers who were not supplied with alcohol.
  3. There was no evidence to suggest that parental supply of alcohol had any positive effect on their adolescent children.

Parents: Do Not Feel Pressured to Give Kids Alcohol

It is true that the Lancet study involved Australian teens and that direct parallels cannot be drawn with their American counterparts. But when looking at the results of that research as well as those of other recent studies, one conclusion is apparent: the notion that parents can expose kids to alcohol in order to increase their odds of future responsible alcohol-related behaviors is not backed by the current scientific evidence that has been compiled. Therefore, parents should not feel the need to supply their children with alcohol with the goal of “demystifying” booze for their kids.

If your child is experiencing harm due to his or her alcohol consumption, contact us today. We are ready to help and can provide you information about our teen treatment programs.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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