The exam results are in and it’s the last bank holiday before Christmas, so what better way for you and your teenage offspring to spend your time than by getting drunk?
It might sound an unlikely scenario, but a new report by charity Drinkaware reports that nearly a quarter of parents questioned admitted to supplying their own children alcohol.
We’re not talking the odd shandy either; some respondents said they served their kids up to nine units of alcohol – that’s the equivalent of four cans of beer, a bottle of wine or a third of a bottle of vodka.
'Special occasions' are OK?
They do caveat it with the fact it’s only for ‘special occasions’ (60% drank on holidays while 48% enjoyed a drink at a party) not an everyday occurrence. But is giving your under-18 a level of booze that’d leave even the most hardened adult a bit woozy really a good idea?
Of course, some people – the ‘they do it on the continent’ crowd – argue it is. They say the fact many Europeans incorporate wine with family meals from a young age, rather than banishing it as off-limits (and therefore making teens in the midst of their hormone-ravaged rebellion want it even more) is a sensible course of action.
And in some ways, they have a point. In 2010, Britain had the dubious honour of being named ‘binge-drinking capital of Europe’ in the ‘all ages’ category.
Then last year, in the ‘teenage girls binge-drinking’ category, we were second highest in the whole developed world (only Denmark was higher). Studies revealed that double the number of teenage girls in the UK had been drunk compared to those in France, Holland or Italy.
So yes, here on our shores, we have clearly got something wrong. But plying our young people with bottles of wine is not going to make it right.
Liver disease in young people
For one, it will damage their health, both now, and in the future. Take the liver, for example. “You might think that only lifelong alcoholics get liver disease, but regularly drinking too much can increase a young person’s chances of damaging their liver,” says Drinkaware.
Earlier this year, a newspaper investigation revealed two 17-year-olds, an 18-year-old and two 19-year-olds had been treated for alcohol-related liver disease in UK hospitals over the last three years.
Then there’s the impact on their underdeveloped brains. Drinkaware again warns: “Drinking during this time can impact on memory, reactions and attention span.”
And we all know what those lapsed memories and reactions can lead to. You’ve got underage sex and unwanted pregnancies, loss of safety awareness (over a third of 16- and 17-year-olds have walked home alone at night when drunk) and basic drunken idiocy that meant from 2010 to 2013, more than 15,000 under 18s were admitted to hospital because of alcohol-related injuries and poisoning.
The psychological effect of drinking young is just as worrying. For all the ‘European theory’ flag-wavers, there’s the solid scientific research that shows that the earlier a child starts drinking, the greater their chances of developing alcohol abuse or dependence in their teenage years and adult life – in fact, children who drink before the age of 15 are most susceptible to alcohol misuse in later life.
Legal but sensible?
But of course, you’re the parent, and it’s up to you what and when and how much alcohol you give to your underage child – t's actually legal for children between the age of five and 18 to drink alcohol at home or other private premises.
Just remember the risks. And perhaps most importantly, remember what you were like as a teenager making your own first forays into alcohol. Chances are, the results weren’t spectacular, and chances are, you might want to save your child from doing the same.