Parents who give their children a few sips of alcohol when they are young may be setting them on a path to drinking more when they are older.
Many parents believe that allowing children to have small amounts of alcohol at home will moderate their drinking in years to come.
But now new research has debunked this myth.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW Australia followed nearly two thousand parent/child pairs over four years in a bid to provide guidance to parents on how best to moderate their child’s drinking.
It found that teenagers given alcohol by their parents at ages 12 and 13 were three times more likely to be drinking full serves by the time they reach 15 and 16-years-old.
“What we found was that early parental supply of alcohol through school years 7 to 9 was the single biggest predictor of drinking in year 10,” said Chief investigator of the study, Professor Richard Mattick.
“It was more influential than family circumstances and issues; more influential than individual psychological risk factors and more influential than peers.”
At age 12 and 13-years-old, close to one in six children in the study reported being given alcohol by their parents.
By 15 and 16-years of age more than a third of the sample was being supplied alcohol by their parents. Of that group, 15 per cent were drinking full serves compared with only 1.5 per cent of the younger children.
By age 15 to 16-years, half of all children in the study were drinking alcohol and obtaining it from a variety of sources including parents, peers, older teens and other adults.
Children who were given alcohol by their parents were also more likely to be obtaining alcohol from these “non-sanctioned” sources as those whose parents did not supply alcohol.
Professor Mattick said the results showed that contrary to opinion among many parents, supplying children with alcohol did not moderate their drinking.
“Parents are the major supplier of alcohol to the under 18s,” said Professor Mattick.
“Many of these do so with the best of intentions – to introduce alcohol in a safe, supervised environment with the aim of moderating a child’s drinking.”
There is also a great deal of interest in the so-called European model whereby parents allow children to sip alcohol from a relatively young age, he said.
Dr Monika Wadolowski, who has recently completed her PhD on aspects of the study, said that by supplying alcohol, parents may inadvertently sanction drinking.
“Most parents will do whatever they can to minimise these risks. Our study suggests that supplying alcohol is not the best strategy to achieve this outcome,” Dr Wadolowski said.
“The results also indicate that those children who are given alcohol by their parents may be more likely to seek out alcohol from a variety of other sources.”