Young people get their alcohol from many sources. Rarely is it from stores. Most often it’s from their parents and other adults, friends, or siblings. Parents giving alcohol is very common.
Many believe that parents giving alcohol to their own children reduces alcohol abuse. They think it’s important to teach moderation by being good role models. It’s not a case of “do as I say” but of “do as I do.” In short, they think it’s better to learn to drink in the parents’ house than in a fraternity house.
But are they right? In some societies and cultural groups, people drink daily with virtually no alcohol-related problems. Examples include Italians, Greeks, Jews, French, Spaniards, and many others. Part of their success is that they teach children in their homes to drink in moderation from an early age.
Researchers in Canada wanted to see if parents giving alcohol effected drinking frequency or alcohol-related harms. They also examined whether or not parental monitoring had any impact on any relationship.
To do so they used data from the Student Drug Use Survey in Canada. It’s an anonymous survey of high school students age 15-19 years. They examined sources of alcohol, frequency of drinking, alcohol-related harms, and parental monitoring of drinking.
Parental supply of alcohol was associated with reduced alcohol-related harm and loss of control. This, although drinking frequency was the same regardless of the source of supply. But there was no reduction in harms if parents did little monitoring. This suggests that it’s important to drink with parents.
In almost all U.S. states, parents may legally serve their sons and daughters alcohol at any age..
These findings are consistent with other research findings. For example, researchers found that teens who drink alcohol with their parents are less likely to abuse it. They studied over 6,200 teens in 242 communities across the U.S.
Researchers in Australia studied teens 14-17 years old from the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey. Those whose parents provided the first drink had fewer alcohol-related problems later. This included heavy episodic drinking or “bingeing.”
Similarly, researchers made a large study in England. They found that teens who drink with their parents had the safest drinking behaviors. They were also the least likely to drink heavily.
Dr. Mark Bellis observed 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).”
Source: Wilson, M. et al. When parents supply alcohol to their children. Drug Alcl Depend, 2018, 183, 141-149.
Resources on Parents Giving Alcohol
Children, Alcohol and Parenting: What Should Parents Do? (webpage) Good overview.
Geltman, J. A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens. Talking to Your Kids about Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things that Freak You Out. NY: AMACOM, 2014.
Leveille, R. The Real Life Parenting Skills Program. Setting Rules and Limits. Hamilton, NJ: Films Media, 2012. (eVideo)
Peele, S. Addiction Proof Your Child. NY: Three Rivers, 2007.
Teach Your Children Alcohol Moderation. (webpage)