Parents who introduce their teenage children to alcohol in the hope it encourages better drinking habits in adulthood could be doing more harm than good, researchers have found.
The University of Adelaide team surveyed 2,800 students aged from 12 to 17 to provide a comprehensive snapshot of their drinking habits and influences.
While rates of teen drinking are reducing, the research found 7.6 per cent of children as young as 12 drank alcohol occasionally, but the figure rose to 66.3 per cent by the age of 17.
At 16 years of age the number of drinkers exceeded the number of non-drinkers at 59.5 per cent.
Lead researcher Jacqueline Bowden said parents were mistaken if they believed it was better to introduce underage teenagers to alcohol.
“[Parents] are thinking they should be doing the right thing by encouraging drinking within the safe environment of the home,” she said.
“But we’re actually saying don’t be purchasing alcohol for teenagers because it encourages heavier drinking, and drinking in the earlier ages.”
She said, surprisingly, the results showed young people did pay attention to what their parents thought about alcohol.
“What we found was that teenagers that were aware their parents didn’t condone their alcohol consumption were much less likely to drink alcohol,” Ms Bowden said.
“The evidence is really clear: role modelling is really important so we need to be aware of our drinking around our children.
“We also need to be setting clear expectations around alcohol consumption in children.”
Joshua Laviolette, 17, has chosen not to drink alcohol largely because of his mother’s own attitude.
“My mum doesn’t drink at all. I’ve never seen her drink at the house,” he said.
“I’ve never seen her drink out, so I just decided not to because I think it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s not really that hard. I just tell [friends] I don’t want to drink because I don’t really feel like it.”
The report found neither social disadvantage nor gender were significant factors, and that young people were most likely to access alcohol if they could afford it.
Ads on Instagram target teen girls
Asahi Premium Beverages was recently slammed for its Vodka Cruiser marketing campaign, pitched at young women.
Advertisements on an Instagram account depicted a young woman with glitter under her eyes, with the caption “how to cover your dark eye circles the morning after”.
A report by the Advertising Standards Bureau said the posts depicted “a face of a girl who appears to be a young teenager”, and that “other Vodka Cruiser Instagram posts also appear to be directed to children”.
The ads have since been pulled, after a complaint by the Cancer Council’s Victorian branch.
Cancer link ignored by teens
Adelaide University’s research found the majority of young people were not thinking about the long-term health effects of alcohol, which can contribute to a range of diseases including cancer.
Only 28.5 per cent of those surveyed thought alcohol could increase a person’s risk of cancer.
“This latest evidence highlights the need to educate young people about the consequences of alcohol consumption and for parents to demonstrate responsible drinking behaviour,” Cancer Council SA chief executive Lincoln Size said.
“We need to get the message through that what may be considered harmless fun actually has lifelong consequences.”
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