Should Teens Drink Alcohol at Home with Their Parents?

Most parents think that it’s illegal for anyone under age 21 to drink alcohol. However, 30 many  permit those under age 21 to drink with their parents or under their supervision. On the other hand, it’s always illegal to serve someone else’s children under the age of 21, even with their parents’ permission.

An article in Newsweek has addressed the question of whether or not parents should serve alcoholic beverages to their own children if they are under 21, even if they are adults. It quotes someone as saying that “the earlier a kid starts drinking, the more likely they are to have problems with alcohol in their life.”

As the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University notes,

It is true that people who report that they started drinking before age 14 are far more likely to become alcoholics than those who don’t start until after 20. But this is correlational data. Those who report drinking regularly before their peers tend to have alcoholic parents, high rates of trauma and other factors that increase their risks for alcoholism.

The article also fails to mention a federally-funded study that found that young people who drank at home with their parents tended to drink less often and were only half as likely to engage in heavy episodic or “binge” drinking.

It additionally fails to mention a large study in the UK that found that teenagers who drink alcohol with their parents exhibit the safest drinking behaviors and are least likely to drink heavily.

Dr. Mark Bellis, who led the study and heads the Public Health Centre, said “the majority of people who are drinking at early ages are not then going on to be problem drinkers later in life.” He said “the real issues are around people understanding alcohol, learning about alcohol, being set a good example by their parents.”

Dr. Bellis said that “The majority of people, by the age of 14, 15 or 16, have drunk alcohol. The question is are they learning to drink from their parents, in a socially responsible environment or are they learning behind the bushes in a park or in a bar where they shouldn’t be in the first place?” The health leader emphasized that “the chances are, if they are in the latter position, they are learning to binge-drink, they are hiding their drinking (from their parents).”
These studies are also consistent with the experience of numerous countries and groups in which children learn to drink alcohol from an early age but who have low rates of alcohol abuse. These groups include Jews, Italians, Greeks, French, Spaniards Portuguese, among many others.

However, the article quotes the head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who asserts that “the highest rate of cirrhosis of the liver is in France,” where it’s legal to drink at an early age. As STATS point out, MADD is simply wrong as the medical journal Lancet makes clear.

The article suggests that drinking at an early age damages the developing brain. In reality, there is no evidence that drinking in moderation at an early age causes any brain damage. In fact, students in these early-drinking groups tend to out-perform most U.S. students on standardized tests of math, geography, and other subjects.

STATS concludes that “given that 80% of teens will drink before they reach the legal age, it is not unreasonable for parents to consider ways to reduce the risks their kids face as a result, and the magazine does a disservice to them by blindly supporting current policy without fully investigating the research.”