10 Jan 2017

Should we teach children to drink the French way?

From Summer Times, 10:15 am on 10 January 2017

The French, some say, do everything better ... but what about responsible drinking?  

In southern European countries children are routinely given wine with their meals.

This approach has led to many New Zealand and Australia parents to follow the ‘Mediterranean model’ on the assumption that giving children small amounts of alcohol acclimatises them to it and leads to a less problematic relationship with it later on in life.

But are these assumptions true?

A new Australian study followed nearly 2000 children and their parents over 4 years, from adolescents onwards.

Principal research fellow at the University of New South Wales' National Drug and Alcohol Centre, Richard Mattick, says the study was prompted by the realisation that a lot of the alcohol that under-18s were getting hold of was coming from their parents.

He told Summer Days with Jesse Mulligan the researchers wanted to look into why parents were supplying it, and whether or not is was a good idea.

There are quite different models, Professor Mattick says.

“It could be a sip of alcohol [given to a young person by a parent] but it could be a four-pack of what we call ‘breezers’ taken by the 15-year-old girl to the party with a bunch of other young girls and blokes.

“So implicit in the parental model is, ‘well if I give my child of 13, 14, 15 years alcohol, in some way I am training them to drink better’.”

He says the research found that if parents give their children alcohol it doubled the risk that in the following year the child would be drinking whole beverages.

“What parents are actually doing is training [their children] to drink. You actually get them to drink earlier than they would have.”

Professor Mattick says the alcohol industry had also been smart in marketing to young people and developing drinks with “school yard flavours” that appeal to teenagers — sweet RTDs (ready to drink) beverages that use Coca Cola, orange juice and even chocolate milk.

He says that he does not want to preach to parents, just to let them know that if they think they are moderating their children’s drinking by providing alcohol, they are actually doing the opposite.

However, another finding from the study is that children who got their alcohol from their parents are less likely to binge drink than if they got it from someone else.

“We think that’s because the kids who were getting alcohol from [them] were probably drinking more often with their parents or in their parent’s presence. So they were less likely to have that third, fourth or fifth can of beer … than kids who are out with their mates.”

It is not clear in the long term whether their drinking habits remain more moderate once they have turned 18, Professor Mattick says, but it is a question the researchers hope to answer as their study subjects reach the legal drinking age. 

Get the new RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to Summer Times

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)