Parents’ lenient attitude to alcohol makes children more likely to drink

Children are more likely to start drinking alcohol, drink more frequently and get drunk if their parents have a lenient attitude towards it, according to a study.

Youngsters whose parents are relaxed about drinking are more likely to use - and overuse - alcohol, research suggests.
Youngsters whose parents are relaxed about drinking are more likely to use - and overuse - alcohol, research suggests.

Researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and East Anglia found children as young as two-years-old become aware of alcohol and are able to distinguish alcoholic from non-alcoholic drinks.

From age four on, children start to understand that alcohol is usually restricted to adults and consumed in specific situations. Many studies have connected the parent’s behaviour and the home environment with children’s alcohol use, but it is still unclear how parental attitudes influence their children’s behaviour.

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Even though the legal age to buy alcohol is 18 years and above in most countries, the 2015 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs found that almost half of 15–16-year-old students had consumed alcohol and 8 per cent had been drunk by the age of 13.

In a study published today in the journal Addiction, Mariliis Tael-Oeren and colleagues at Cambridge’s Behavioural Science Group and the School of Health Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA) found that children whose parents had less restrictive attitudes towards their child’s alcohol use were more likely to start drinking alcohol than their peers. They also drank – and got drunk – more frequently.

Mariliis Tael-Oeren, PhD student and lead author for the study, says: “Our study suggests that when parents have a lenient attitude towards their children drinking alcohol, this can lead to their child drinking more frequently – and drinking too much.

“Although the data was based on children and their parents in the US and Europe, we expect that our findings will also apply here in the UK.”

The researchers pooled information from the 29 most relevant articles and analysed all the relevant information, which included data from almost 16,500 children and more than 15,000 parents in the US and Europe.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said: “Parents can help to protect their children by giving clear and consistent messages about the risks of alcohol consumption. However, we also need to tackle the current pro-alcohol environment where drinking is seen as the norm. Parents, children and young people alike are living in a world where cheap alcohol is widely available and heavily promoted. If we want to protect young people from alcohol harm then we need to regulate to reduce their exposure to alcohol marketing.”