Drinking is very much a part of the Australian culture. Beers at BBQs, champagne to celebrate, G&Ts on a girls’ night out.
We drink at restaurants, pubs, parties and even at sporting events. For many it is a key element of our social interactions, as well as a way to unwind at home. Children see all this drinking, getting the message it’s a way to relax and have fun.
Most children also understand that drinking is for adults. However, when they get older and become teenagers (aka. adults in the making) those lines get blurred.
In fact, many parents who accept that it is normal for teenagers to experiment with alcohol choose to provide drinks to children at home. Some parents even let younger children taste or sip their alcoholic drinks.
Under Australian liquor laws, the legal drinking age is 18 years. This means that people under the age of 18 are prohibited to purchase or consume alcohol in licenced premises or public places.
However, there are also “second supply laws” which relate to the supply of alcohol to minors. All Australian states have laws which relate to responsible adults or guardians providing liquor to under 18s. Essentially, you can provide alcohol to your own child or someone’s else’s child with consent from their guardian, as long as it meets the requirements for responsible provision.
Responsible supply of alcohol means appropriately supervising consumption, ensuring food is available and limiting the quantity and type of alcohol. It also depends on the minor’s age. You access the laws for different states via the DrinkWise website.
So is giving your child alcohol a good idea? Many parents state they would rather have some control over their teenager’s consumption of alcohol and at least they know they are safe drinking at home.
But is providing alcohol to your teenagers protecting them or actually encouraging underage drinking?
A six-year study undertaken by the University of New South Wales National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre reveals the answer.
The study of nearly 2,000 teens and their parents found that when parents allow them to drink alcohol, even sips, children are twice as likely as their peers to be drinking full serves of alcohol by age 15 or 16. This indicates supply of alcohol can accelerate teenage drinking. It was noted, however, this group are less likely to engage in binge drinking and were more likely to drink less on any given occasion.
A child’s personality traits also impacted their drinking habits as teenagers. Peer pressure, other risk taking behaviours and aggression were all risk factors in drinking and binge drinking habits.
The news isn’t all bad. Education campaigns on the dangers of alcohol consumption are obviously working. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) 2016 found that there has been a significant increase in the proportion of 12-17 year olds abstaining from alcohol, from 72% in 2013 to 82% in 2016. The age teenagers first try of alcohol is also increasing, from 14.4 years old in 1998 to 16.1 years old in 2016.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) advises that children under the age of 15 are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking, and it is best therefore to delay their initiation to alcohol for as long as possible. The brains of teenagers and young adults are still developing in areas of learning, executive functioning and emotional stability. Excessive alcohol consumption can impact this development.
Parenting is fraught with making difficult judgement calls on what is best for our kids. When it comes to alcohol, we need to be informed to help our teenagers make good choices.