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When and how should you introduce your child to alcohol?

Every parent must think throug
h how best to introduce their children to the pleasures and pitfalls of alcohol consumption. It is important that children are given accurate and balanced advice about alcohol.

We are aware of the power of example, and it has been demonstrated that if young people are introduced to wine, cider or beer, in the company of family or friends at home, where it is enjoyed sensibly in a convivial atmosphere, later problems can be avoided. The philosophy of such an approach, is that if your child is allowed a taste of wine, mixed with water, the idea of 'taboo' and alcohol being a forbidden fruit are removed and the pleasures of drinking lightly, from example and without excess. It helps avoid experimentation with alcohol without supervision in secrecy or at other people's houses.


-Brook J et al 2001 The impact of personality, family, and environmental factors, Journal of Behavioural Medicine, Ellickson P and Hays 1991 Antecedents of drinking among young adolescents with different alcohol use histories Journal of studies on alcohol 52
-Learning about Drinking Brunner Routledge - especially chapters by - Ruth Engs Houghton E 2001 Past influences, current issues, future research directions .Milgram G Alcohol Influences the Role of Family and peers
-Dwight Heath 2000 Drinking Occasions - Comparative perspectives on alcohol and culture Brunner/ MazelHops H et al 1999 A gender study of family and peer context in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol 13

Set an example

Over a twelve month period, the teenage Britons, Irish and Swedes are twice as likely to have binge drinking occasions compared to the Italians and the French. Their lack of 'binge' culture is often explained by the Mediterranean lifestyle whereby alcohol is introduced at mealtimes and by the drinking environment which revolves around family meals, cafes and restaurants rather than bars and clubs.

In a report on binge drinking: Causes, Consequences and Cures, Adrian Furnham suggests that parents play the central and the most powerful causative role in establishing drinking patterns. Upbringing determines the child’s values, media consumption, friendships and expenditure as well as setting an example by their own drinking. It is vital for parents to recognise the excitement and rewards offered by drinking as part of ‘independence’. Demonising alcohol is counter productive, so get talking!

Get Talking

Young Children
If you drink alcohol at home, your children are bound to ask questions at an early age about what you are drinking and what it tastes like. It is tempting to say 'wait until you are older', but it is worth explaining to your child that little bodies can't digest alcohol, which is 'strong'. Hence they should only have a very occasional sip at times of celebration such as Birthdays and Christmas.

If your child shows an interest, you could consider letting them have a small amount of wine mixed with water or beer at meal times, perhaps at weekends. (Please visit www.alcoholpolicy.niaaa.nih.gov/stateprofiles to find out about your State's under age policies). This is the Mediterranean way, and has proved to make alcohol be seen as more of a 'food' to be enjoyed at meal times than in Northern Europe or the US where it is more associated with a rite of passage, 'taboo' and breaking rules.

Research shows that teenagers experiment with alcohol and often with friends, but if their parents have been good and open role models and are ‘well socialised’ they are unlikely to develop bad habits with respect to alcohol.

Few states specifically prohibit minors' consumption of alcohol in private settingsand/or in the presence of a parent or guardian , for specific State information, visit, http://www.alcoholpolicy.niaaa.nih.gov/stateprofiles/index.asp Banning alcohol in the household can lead to unregulated secret drinking - parents are key – through example, instruction, control of the media and monetary allowances you can help ensure that your children become responsible young adults.

Young Adults
Once your child has gone to college or is living away from home for the first time, it is harder to influence them and you have no control over the time they come home or how they drink and eat. The path should have been properly laid already to self respect and independence but the following advice may help:

> Highlight the consequences of drunkenness without effecting their friendships and social life, such as getting home safely, looking a fool in front of friends or partners and the risk of unprotected sex.

> Encourage them to pace themselves by alternating drinks, to eat before going out drinking or clubbing.

For more information see Top Tips

The Law

It is important to ensure you are not breaking the law. It is against the law for anyone under 21 to buy or drink alcohol in a bar, restaurant or store in the US (the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984). While the legal drinking age is 21 in all states, the legal details vary. Some states do not allow those under the legal drinking age to be present in liquor stores or in bars (usually, the difference between a bar and a restaurant is whether food is being served).

Few states specifically prohibit minors' consumption of alcohol in private settings and/or in the presence of a parent or guardian.

Most states also ban underage people from having a BAC of .02% in public, meaning that an underage person who drinks legally in a private residence is breaking the law if they step onto public property.

In most States it is an offence to have any alcohol in your blood if driving under the age of 21.

Some States also allow exceptions for educational purposes (e.g. students in culinary schools), religious purposes (e.g. sacramental use of alcoholic beverages), or medical purposes.

Hosting Teen Parties

You risk prosecution if you allow other younsters to drink unsupervised in your home - even if you are unaware that they are doing so. Check you state laws here.

Further sources:

From Colette, Earthly Paradise:
'At an age when I could still scarcely read, I was spelling out, drop by drop, old light clarets and dazzling Yquems. Champagne appeared in its turn, a murmur of foam, leaping pearls of air providing an accompaniment to Birthday and First Communion banquets..... Good lessons, from which I graduated to a familiar and discreet use of wine, not gulped down greedily but measured out into narrow glasses, assimilated mouthful by spaced out meditative mouthful'

© 2000 Alcohol in Moderation