A study of 1,200 people has found that half of parents believe 15 to 17 year olds should be allowed to consume alcohol at home under parental supervision.

The study by a national health insurance provider found that Western Australian parents were the most in favour of allowing under-age drinking.

Dr Christine Bennett, who worked on the study, says it highlights the dangerous beliefs people still have about under-age drinking. “Evidence suggests that the earlier the age that alcohol is introduced, the greater the risk of long-term alcohol related health problems,” she said.

“Some parents may think this is harmless; some may see this approach as a way to teach their teenage children about socially responsible drinking. But we want parents to understand that early exposure may actually be doing them damage.”

Professor Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Institute highlighted the dangers involved in under-age drinking. “The key issue here is the brain is continuing to grow and develop during the late teenage and early adult years and particularly the front part of the brain, that has the most to do with being an adult – making decisions, planning for the future, inhibiting impulsive behaviours – is undergoing very active change,” he explained.

“Alcohol is toxic to nerve cells, kills off nerve cell connections, and excessive exposure to alcohol during those years therefore might do lasting damage to teenage brains.”

The Media release describing the report can be found here.