To let them drink or not?

January 13, 2017

Shepparton Italian Social Club member Vince Sagoleo says small sips of wine were a normal part of his childhood when he ate dinner with his parents.

Want to stop your kids from becoming binge drinkers in their teenage years? According to new research, letting them have a sip of wine might stop them drinking excessively later on.

The age-old question of how to introduce teenagers and children to alcohol has been reopened with a new study.

The four-year study from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre followed 2000 children and their parents to find what effect early introduction to alcohol has on consumption levels.

After tracking the families for four years it found that teenagers and children introduced to alcohol by their parents were less likely to binge drink later on.

But, it also showed that teenagers and kids introduced to alcohol early on were more likely to be drinking full serves by 15 or 16.

Children and young teens drinking a sip of wine with dinner is common and considered traditional in many European cultures.

Shepparton Italian Social Club spokesman Vince Sagoleo said small sips of wine were a normal part of his childhood when he ate dinner with his parents.

‘‘Back in those days when wine was introduced to us it was more like education,’’ Mr Sagoleo said.

‘‘It was part of our upbringing.’’

He defended the practice, and rather than introduce children to dangerous drinking, he said it taught them to understand and demystify alcohol.

‘‘No-one ever got drunk, a lot of us didn’t even like the taste of it,’’ he said. ‘‘I personally don’t think it hurts (for children) to have a sip.’’

Lead author of the study Professor Richard Mattick said it was a complicated issue for parents to grapple with.

‘‘There is a body of research indicating that the adolescent brain is still developing well into the early 20s and alcohol may interfere with optimum development,’’ Professor Mattick said.

‘‘But also we know that parents want to do the right thing by their children and there has been anecdotal evidence that children introduced to alcohol by their parents, as is common in some European cultures, may be less likely to develop problems with alcohol.’’

The study found that children who obtained alcohol from people other than their parents were three times more likely to binge drink.

But rather than an endorsement of letting children have a sip, Professor Mattick said parental introduction to alcohol also had problems.

‘‘Given that children supplied alcohol by their parents were twice as likely to be drinking full serves a year later as their peers who were not given alcohol by their parents, the results suggest that parents who supply alcohol, even with the best intentions, are likely to accelerate their child’s drinking and be laying down the potential for future harms,’’ he said.

In Victoria it is legal for a person under 18 to drink alcohol in licensed premises if they are with a parent or guardian and if it is with a meal.

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