CHRIS UHLMANN: Allowing teenagers tastes of alcohol to try and promote responsible drinking might be counterproductive.
That’s the view of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre after a four year study of the drinking habits of 2000 families.
Researchers found that teenagers who got alcohol from their parents are three times more likely to be heavier drinkers in their late teens than families who do not supply alcohol.
Will Ockenden reports.
WILL OCKENDEN: Sue is a parent who is happy to allow her teenage children to drink, so long as it’s only a small amount, and she knows about it.
SUE: I much prefer my kids probably, be honest and drink in front of me.
WILL OCKENDEN: Fourteen-year-old Harriet says she doesn’t drink.
HARRIET: My friends aren’t really into alcohol.
WILL OCKENDEN: But if she did, she’d be responsible.
HARRIET: I wouldn’t hide it from my parents or anything.
WILL OCKENDEN: When parents introduce children to alcohol, it’s often in the belief that it promotes use in a safe environment, and therefore develops better drinking habits.
But researchers from the National Drug and Alcohol Centre have challenged those views.
RICHARD MATTICK: A lot of parents arguably or reportedly say they’re doing it so they can teach responsible drinking.
But we’re just finding that rather than moderating drinking, kids are drinking more.
WILL OCKENDEN: Professor Richard Mattick is from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.
His study found that when parents give alcohol to young teenagers, rather than promoting moderate drinking, it results in higher levels of alcohol consumption.
RICHARD MATTICK: If their aim is to moderate their child’s drinking, providing alcohol probably does the reverse.
WILL OCKENDEN: The study has been four years in the making, following nearly 2000 families, monitoring how the drinking changed as the child grew up.
The researchers say the discovery surprised them.
RICHARD MATTICK: It’s quite plausible that trying to get your kids to drink in a responsible fashion can be a great idea.
It’s just the evidence suggests that if you are trying to moderate their drinking, giving them alcohol actually does the reverse.
What we are seeing is the rates of drinking are three times you would expect if parents didn’t give alcohol.
WILL OCKENDEN: The researchers also found that for the young teenagers who were given alcohol, they were 15 times more likely to go on to get it from sources other than their parents.
As for the reasons why, professor Richard Mattick says while it’s speculative, he thinks once teenagers are given the green light, they keep drinking.
RICHARD MATTICK: It is a permissiveness, the parents are essentially sanctioning that it’s okay to drink.
So kids go out and rather than think ‘oh I better not drink, I’ll get into trouble’, the kids will think ‘well, it’s okay to drink’.
I think it’s as simple as that.
We think that what’s going on is that these kids are just getting used to drinking on a regular basis, and much more than they would have otherwise.
The harms have increased slightly in the group that where the parents were providing alcohol.
But they’re still too young Will, they’re only 15, 16.
WILL OCKENDEN: So while they do drink more, as you’ve found, it might not necessarily be any worse for them?
RICHARD MATTICK: At this stage no.
WILL OCKENDEN: But Geoff Munro is from the Australian Drug Foundation says there are other studies which show the earlier that people start drinking, the more harm it can have.
GEOFF MUNRO: The National Health and Medical Research Council states that young people should avoid drinking, and to put it off as long as possible, at least until the age of 18 and that young people are best avoiding alcohol for as long as possible.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Geoff Munro from the Australian Drug Foundation, ending Will Ockenden’s report.
– Will Ockenden