“It’s just a few sips. It’s not going to hurt anyone?” This may be a common perception among parents who ignore underage drinking or give alcohol to their children and their children’s friends. Other parents cannot even fathom giving alcohol to their kids and have stricter parenting guidelines.
Despite the fact that giving alcohol to a minor is illegal and harmful, many parents believe letting their child try alcohol is an acceptable practice to prevent future alcohol abuse. These parents often believe their child is responsible enough to handle it, while their child and his or her friends may perceive them as the “cool parent”.
Yet, this permissive parenting can be severely harmful for children who grow up in a culture where early drinking is the norm with no clear boundaries. Studies show that this lack of boundaries can lead to binge drinking and alcoholism in teens and young adults.
How Early Drinking as a Child Affects Teens
Despite the legality and potential harm to children and teens, underage drinking is a somewhat expected, yet frowned upon practice. Some parents actually believe that if they hand their child a glass of alcohol, this will reduce their chances of alcohol abuse. However, the contrary is true.
More Likely to Binge Drink
Today, the average age of children who try their first alcoholic beverage is 10. Brown University surveyed about 500 middle school students over a 10-year period and found that kids younger than 10 had tried alcohol under parental guidance.
The study also found that those children who drank their first alcoholic beverage before sixth grade were four times more likely to have been drunk from binge drinking by the time they reached the ninth grade.
By the time high school students mature into young adults, binge drinking may already become the norm for some. Teens’ tolerance levels are higher and they are more likely to drink more in one setting and develop alcoholism without paying attention to the risks.
Brain Development and Alcohol-Related Injuries
The frontal lobe, responsible for making executive decisions in the brain, is the last part of the brain to develop at about age 25. Those who began drinking at a young age are more likely to impede this development process and binge drink later on in their teens and early twenties.
This lack of development can cause teens to make bad decisions that can lead to the following:
• Alcohol-related injuries
• Motor vehicle accidents
• DUIs and problems with the law
• Alcohol-related deaths
A study by Monitoring the Future revealed that each year on average about 5,000 young people under age 21 die from driving under the influence of alcohol. In addition, motor vehicle accidents account for 1,900 deaths, while alcohol-related homicide contributes to 1,600 deaths a year.
Reducing Teenage Risk from Alcoholism
No matter how much supervision parents or guardians provide for their children, there is no research that proves early drinking will reduce the likeliness of abusing alcohol later on in life; in fact, it increases it.
Below are just some ways to prevent underage drinking:
• Limit the availability of alcohol in the home
• Limit your drinking around children and/or teens
• Set clear rules and guidelines about drinking alcohol
• Create healthy boundaries as the parent/guardian, not as their friend
There really is no safe way for kids or teens to drink. While peers become a major influence on teens later on, parents are the major influencers on whether children and teens even decide to pick up a drink, drink moderately, binge drink, or not at all.