Britain Education featured 00:57Ciaran McCormick
A new survey has discovered some eye-opening statistics about how parents give alcohol to their children. Half of parents with children under 14 have admitted to giving them alcohol. Shockingly, 11% of parents with children aged five to seven have allowed their children to drink alcohol. Worst of all, 34% have bribed their kids with booze as a reward for good behaviour. This is bad parenting.
|Half of UK parents give under 14 year olds alcohol (Flickr - Leonid Mamchenkov)|
However, the outrage associated with this news is not entirely justified. Giving alcohol to young people can be a good thing if it is done in small doses and supervised settings. It helps to introduce kids to its effects in a structured and monitored way. Surrounding something with mystery and taboo makes it irresistible to young people. This leads to risky alcohol use and a potential set of bad consequences.
Other countries have far healthier drinking cultures where children are exposed to alcohol at celebrations and family gatherings where sensible drinking is normalised. In Britain, we have the grim sights of young people getting unsociably drunk at home and abroad.
The survey was conducted by Churchill Home Insurance to highlight the negative effects that can come from young people drinking. Clearly, it is important to allow drinking in the home at a sensible age to a limited amount and not let children stagger around drunk. Nonetheless, bribing kids or giving primary school children alcohol is not wise. When secondary school comes around and children are more exposed to peer pressure and more external sources, it is worth consideration by parents.
|The controversial world of young drinking (Flickr - Dean Hochman)|
However, we are bombarded with mixed messages. The media offers both glamorous portrayals of drinking and devastating images of drunk driving. Penalties for drinking and buying alcohol by or for minors are very stringent. But parents can give their children alcohol in the home with no legal repercussions from the very young age of 5.
The official advice from the UK Chief Medical Officer is to have an alcohol free childhood, but this repression may do more harm than good. Kids are great at finding their ways around bans and uncontrolled alcohol use is the alternative. They even realise that the rule is unrealistic and say that if children drink alcohol underage it should be over the age of 15. They say that there is clear evidence that alcohol can harm the developing brain, bones and hormones but the relaxed laws means 5 year olds can drink in the home unregulated.
Indeed, statistical trends show that young people are more sensible with alcohol than their parents. The Institute of Alcohol Studies report that 38% of 11-15 year olds in England had tried alcohol in 2014, down from 61% in 2003. It is part of a tendency of young people to eschew hedonistic tendencies like alcohol, sex and drugs in favour of alternative technology. The fall has happened at all levels of consumption, in both boys and girls, and across all social and demographic groups.
|Should young people be allowed alcohol in supervised environments rather than away from home? (Flickr - Palliativo)|
The worrying thing is that those children that do drink report damagingly high levels of consumption. A survey carried out for the NHS Information Centre by the National Centre for Social Research and the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed that of the pupils in England aged 11 to 15 years who had drunk alcohol in the last week, those who did so drank a mean amount of 12.5 units. This is dangerously close to the adult weekly limit and means that many are exceeding it. With young people shunning alcohol more generally, parents are at blame for the drinking culture they instil in their families. Adults need to be far better role models for their offspring. Indeed, the children of parents that drink tend to do so more frequently.
We shouldn’t judge children for wanting to drink alcohol. The most common reasons are to be more sociable with friends (84%), because it gives them a rush or a buzz (78%) and because it makes them feel more confident (71%). No doubt, these are identical to many of the reasons that adults give for legitimately drinking alcohol. Giving it to children may be a sensible decision to help educate them on its risks and benefits. The half of British parents giving children alcohol may feel vindicated by these reasons. However, these adults should know better than to bribe kids with alcohol and give it to 5-7 year olds.