You’ve been a good kid, have yourself a drink…

Survey shows over a third of parents reward their children with alcohol


It’s often been said that one of the reasons we are experiencing so many problems with youth alcoholism and binge drinking is that our children aren’t brought up to understand and respect alcohol.

Many commentators have pointed toward the continental practice of allowing children to drink (usually diluted) wine with the family dinner as offering a much healthier way of exposing young minds to the sensible and restrained ways of enjoying a drink.

They argue that, once they’re legally allowed to indulge, those who have no prior experience suffer from a ‘kid in a toyshop’ effect which overcomes any natural sense of restraint and leads young drinkers toward excessive consumption.

If the results of a recent survey by insurance company Churchill is anything to go by, we’re soon going to find out if the theory works.

In a poll of over 1,000 parents of children under 14, half of them allowed their children to drink some form of alcohol at home.

The research doesn’t distinguish between a sip of champagne on New Year’s Eve, a glass of wine with dinner or a scotch to get over a bad day at school but does assume some level of parental supervision.

Perhaps more concerning is the admission of over 34% of the parents that they use alcohol to reward their children for ‘good behaviour’.

There’s nothing illegal about children consuming alcohol at home but health and behavioural experts are divided as to the potential long term effect of the practice.

The current official line from public health bodies is that children should avoid alcohol because their developing brains are particularly susceptible to the damaging effects of prolonged alcohol use.

The more libertarian parenting experts dismiss any health concerns on the understanding that no parent would overexpose their children to dangerous levels of intoxication but speculate that children would benefit from becoming part of an environment of sensible drinking.

All sides of the discussion agree that it is a matter for the parents.

The reality is that any attempt to enforce regulations within the family dynamic would be futile in any case, but there may be dangers in a cultural change that embraces juvenile alcohol consumption as the ‘norm’.

Parents have an enormous impact on how children see the world and process their understanding of adult behaviour.

While promoting a healthy and respectful attitude to alcohol might well give a solid grounding that prevents overindulgence in the future, linking drink to positive behaviour strikes me as a very dangerous habit to cultivate.

In the end, it will be the way that the adults consume alcohol themselves that will have the greatest impact on their children.

Giving a child a watered down glass of wine while mum and dad polish off a bottle between them at a single sitting is hardly going to promote moderation.

Even if the adults have been very, very, good…

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