Supplying Alcohol to Underage Children Poses Grave Health Risks

Parents who supply their underage children alcohol are being urged to think twice before doing so as it can be detrimental to their health.

Experts say parents should also be mindful of their own drinking behaviours in front of underage children as it can have a direct influence on them.

While the legal age to purchase alcohol in Australia is 18 years or older, the concept of “secondary supply” refers to adults providing alcohol to people under the age of 18.

Secondary supply constitutes the primary method through which young people obtain alcohol, with a staggering 47% of 12- to 17-year-old drinkers receiving alcohol from their parents.

Medical experts have urged parents to think twice before supplying underage children with alcohol. Credit: Elite care.
Medical experts have urged parents to think twice before supplying underage children with alcohol. Credit: Elite care.

Professor Jacqueline Bowden from the College of Medicine and Public Health underscores the significant health risks associated with introducing underage children to alcohol.

Despite common misconceptions that controlled exposure to alcohol, such as a small glass of wine at Sunday lunch, promotes responsible drinking attitudes, research indicates otherwise.

Professor Bowden warns that supplying alcohol to underage children can lead to an earlier onset of risky drinking behaviours and can have detrimental health consequences.

“It is clear from medical evidence that allowing underage kids to drink, and supplying them with alcohol, even under the supervision of a parent, is not recommended,” Professor Bowden said on Thursday.

“We now know that any amount of alcohol can harm young developing brains, negatively impact hormone activity, and can lead to a range of health complications, mental health conditions, antisocial behaviour and risky sexual behaviour.

“How parents behave around alcohol and how they address the subject can have a huge impact on their kids.”

Recognising the pivotal role of parental behavior in shaping attitudes toward alcohol, Professor Bowden and her research team have secured over $945,000 from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to address this pressing issue.

The research project aims to collaborate with parents and adolescents to develop informative resources that highlight the dangers of supplying alcohol.

“Data shows that parents are supplying drinks to their teenagers in the mistaken belief that it is building a responsible relationship with alcohol.  Unfortunately, the evidence shows that, on the contrary, it can increase drinking and the associated harms among young people,” Professor Bowden said.

“Parents have a right to know all the facts and be aware of all the risks, so they can make an informed decision.  We want to develop resources that build trust, transparency and confidence between parents and their kids when addressing this tricky topic.”

She offered simple but powerful steps that every parent can take to help steer their kids away from alcohol.

  1. Limit availability of alcohol
  • Many parents believe supplying their children with alcohol in the safe environment of their home teaches them to drink responsibly.

    Unfortunately, parental supply – whether deliberate or if teenagers drink their parent’s supply behind their back – is associated with heavier teen drinking both inside and outside of the family home.

    Evidence shows that even the provision of sips by parents to kids can lead to more drinking among adolescents.  Regardless of the intent, any supply (including sips) may normalise and signify approval or permission to drink alcohol.

  1. Set boundaries and clear expectations

    Alcohol is the leading individual risk factor for death and disability in 15–24-year-olds globally.

    Parents have an important role to play in protecting teenagers, setting boundaries and clear expectations about drinking alcohol.

    Talk to your teens about the risks of consuming alcohol.  If they are attending parties where there is likely to be alcohol, let them know your expectations and teach them they can say no.

    Talk to other parents about their rules and what your stance is on alcohol.

  2. Be a good role model

    Parents are important role models for kids when it comes to alcohol.  We suggest that parents are mindful of their own drinking in front of children. It’s important not to glamourise the use of alcohol or make it a focal point. It’s also not a good idea to ask children to pour adults alcoholic drinks.

    Children are incredibly perceptive and seeing their parents tipsy or drunk can leave them feeling anxious at unusual behaviour, but it can also influence their own future drinking habits.

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