It may come as a surprise to many parents that even a small taste of alcohol by a young child, even in the context of a family setting, can affect drinking behaviours in adolescents and beyond. Of course, there are many factors to consider, but there is a growing body of research into this area with the results quite surprising to many.
A study published in March in the journal Paediatrics called “Parents who supply sips of alcohol in early adolescence: A prospective study or risk factors.” addresses these factors and makes interesting reading.
- Many parents think it is perfectly acceptable for their child to have a taste or sip of alcohol.
- The children who had tried alcohol before Year 6 – usually beer or wine at home - were more likely to have had full drinks or been drunk by the beginning of Year 9.
- Alcohol sipping at a young age is related to earlier experimentation with alcohol which is a risk factor for a lot of other problem behaviours.
- Parents should not be providing alcohol to their kids.
The author of the study, Dr. Monika Wadolowski, claims that the most convincing reason given was that parents who perceived that their child's peers were using alcohol were more likely to be providing those sips at home; there were also associations with increased home access to alcohol and lenient rules about alcohol.
“What was really interesting," she said, "was to find the parents who were supplying alcohol to their children, they had good parenting practices, they had strict rules, they monitored their children's relationships." What correlated with their decision to offer those sips? "The biggest predictors were whether they thought their children's friends were drinking," she said. So perhaps they were deliberately trying to offer an alternative model.
Wadolowski is concluding another study that looked at how the Year 7’s who had had sips of alcohol behaved over the next year. It found that those who progressed to drinking whole drinks were more likely to have problem behaviours, friends who drank and less parental monitoring; these factors were more important than the history of sipping. And the risk factors are interrelated.
Because it is so widespread, "we do need to understand what the long-term effects are and whether it does relate to binge drinking," Wadolowski told me. "The research is so young."
And so, of course, are the children.
From an article by Perri Klass, April 26, 2016, Sydney Morning Herald